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down to earth at kroka

November 22, 2021
By Vicki Grisanti
Photos Rob Bossi

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” — Coretta Scott King

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Innovators, as we refer to students at NEIA, would arrive on campus with the promise of what their school experience would be and a shared sense of purpose. The early days would likely set the tone for the weeks and months ahead. Creating a sense of belonging became our primary focus as we prepared to open a new school.

How Might We Ensure Innovators Belong at School

Belonging comes with community. As we set about building our community at NEIA, we know students want to feel heard, understood, respected, and loved.

“By understanding the needs and emotions of other people, we automatically break down barriers,” said Matt Kressy, Trustee and Head of Innovation at NEIA.

Enabling our teachers and staff to get to know our innovators and get to know each other became the goal of the orientation program, The Ascent, that we designed for September. Setting aside time at the start of the year and providing space to listen and understand each other would be critical to building trust and shaping our community.

Digging in with Kroka Expeditions

Many schools look for creative ways to encourage students to get to know each other and let their guard down at the start of a new year. However, NEIA’s teachers and staff wanted something truly memorable and meaningful as part of orientation. As we explored different options, Kroka Expeditions quickly rose to the top of the list given the location of their farm and focus on building a relationship with the land. The only question left was could Kroka host a group of 75 Innovators across grade levels over 48 hours?

Amahle and Yaya, grade 6 innovators, gather under the tent and forge a fast friendship at Kroka.

“As as it happened, we all agreed that NEIA’s request presented an exciting challenge,” said Ezra Klein, “It was such a huge event for us to host, and we knew having such a large group would be fun.”

Kroka would scale a traditional three to four-day experience into 24 hours to accommodate the shortened timeline of NEIA’s visit. Ezra explained that the Kroka team focused on three key takeaways they wanted NEIA Innovators to experience from the curriculum, namely:

Innovators would come into the farm or wilderness and work together to become comfortable living outdoors and in primitive dwellings. They would get water from the well and cook over an open fire.
Lead six different activities that groups would rotate through and ensure that each student would participate in at least three of the activities. Then, as a whole community, everyone would have a chance to see and learn about everything.
Encouraging students to work together on morning chores and understand the meaning behind their work. The chores, whatever they were, would help prepare Kroka for the next group to visit the land.

“We can do altruistic work in nature. For example, students who split firewood and stacked it might not be using it but would make it available to a future group, just as NEIA is using wood from a previous group,” said Ezra. “The work is something that we do for someone known or unknown in the future.”

Innovators explored Kroka village, 120 acres of forests, fields, and streams. Activities ranged from learning to read maps, topography, and a compass to rock climbing and canoeing. They also completed various chores, from splitting and stacking firewood to harvesting food from the gardens, hauling water, and cooking meals.

Cultivating Community

As innovators arrived at Kroka, they were encouraged to kick off their shoes and socks and let their feet sink into the earth. The previous day’s rain left the ground wet and soggy, but innovators and staff alike quickly complied and stood to mark the moment in a large circle. As innovators broke off into groups, there was a sense of excited anticipation for what the next few hours would entail. Gathering for a quick lunch of bagels and cream cheese with freshly picked carrots from the garden, groups of students got to know one another and their Kroka guides before digging into the activities.

Activities would alternate with food preparation for the evening meal, and each group would bring a special offering to share at dinner.

“Being in nature ensured that the experience was new to everyone and acted as a reset for all.”

We were impressed from the beginning to how open the students were to the experience and jumped right in to challenge themselves with the activities,” said Erza. “Being in nature ensured that the experience was new to everyone and acted as a reset for all.”

The small groups proved a success as Innovators came together and created a whole community. In this way, they were able to work together on small teams to do their activities which facilitated friendships and bonding. In addition, students were less self-conscious by working together and treating each experience as a small team activity where everyone is new. As a result, they could enjoy the moment as they worked toward a greater goal.

For the meals, much of the food that is eaten on the farm is also sourced there. Innovators cooked lots of vegetables and had a lot of unfamiliar foods. Each group would share their offering at dinner, and it was clear that there were many different types of foods to try. Since they all had a hand in making the meal, there was a genuine willingness to try lots of new foods, and by the end, not much was left.

“It was quite a transformation from the morning gathering to our evening meal,” said Ezra. It was evident that students were feeling a sense of pride as they brought their food to the table.”

Kroka Students prepare a fire and cut vegetables to contribute fresh salsa and potato salad for the evening meal.

Down to Earth

At the very end, there was a closing circle, and with the rain tapering off, Innovators were able to take a few moments to share one word that summarized their experience. The word that kept coming up repeatedly was community.

“Feeling like part of a whole community at dinner and then again around the bonfire, it reminds us that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” said Ezra.

Although hosting large groups was a new experience for Kroka, it was a success, and now the team is thinking about more ways to reach schools. An overnight coupled with meaningful activities and chores can significantly impact students and build community as it did for NEIA innovators, teachers, and staff.