A Spotlight on HCA’s Ecology & Outdoor Leadership:

Published in the New England EL Leadership Newsletter


APRIL, 2021

Students from HCA’s Ecology & Outdoor Leadership Class

Harpswell Coastal Academy is currently running in-person instruction 4 days per week with Wednesdays used for remote community meetings, teacher office hours, staff meetings and professional development sessions. About 60% of their 5-12 student body participates in-person, while the rest either participate remotely or in some hybrid fashion. All teaching is synchronous, meaning those who are not on-site, Zoom in to live classes. Teachers run virtual Community Meetings weekly, to celebrate, play, and continue to build the sense of belonging. 

Gretchen Bukowick, Regional Director of EL Education, recently had the opportunity to share a “virtual coffee” with Mel Christensen, Science Teacher and Divisional Team Leader, and Kaitlyn Pulju, School Counselor and Student Support Team Leader. This dynamic duo co-taught Ecology & Outdoor Leadership this fall to a 9-12th grade class of 21 students, 2 who joined remotely, and 6 who participated in a hybrid manner. This did not stop these two from getting their students out of the classroom and into the woods. Their goal was to leverage systems thinking to examine how an ecosystem is being impacted by human activity, and propose plans for leading the humans who have an effect on that ecosystem toward more inclusive and sustainable actions.  The class participated in large group work, outdoor leadership activities, field work, data collection, and solo sits, culminating in each student creating a field guide to their local ecosystem. These guides were developed first as slide shows and then pulled into small booklets that the school community can carry with them as they explore the land around them. Ultimately the guides will be shared with the Brunswick -Topsham Land Trust for fuller community education and use. Mel and Kaitlyn brought remote and hybrid students into the learning by helping them to identify an ecosystem they could explore near their home. Through use of journaling, photo-journaling, reflection and whole group synchronous learning, students, despite what manner of joining, came together as a learning crew.

In addition to Ecology and science standards, leadership and stewardship were strong components of this class – students took turns practicing various roles (leader of group, professor – who kept focus, etc.) leveraging daily feedback and reflection to sharpen and hone their leadership skills.

One of the strongest areas of feedback from participating students was about this leadership component. Students spoke of a deeper understanding of what the role of a leader was: how to maintain safety of a whole group, the crucial tool of clear communication, how to lead through action not volume, how to act as a “leader” when out with friends. 


Next steps for this team: explore deepening leadership opportunities for students learning remotely, build in more 1:1 time with remote learners early on to get better sense of their local ecosystem, leverage journaling/photos/video to track everyone’s daily exploration, explore possibility of an overnight experience, and definitely continue to co-teach, which they named as a powerful factor in successfully supporting an in-person/hybrid/remote class makeup.