“Micro-trash is a MACRO problem,” proclaimed my co-instructor after we challenged our students to pick up two pieces of trash along the trail during our day hike. Since Field Education uses the outdoors as our classroom, Leave No Trace (LNT) principles are essential components of our curriculum. Perhaps you have heard the adage “take only photographs and leave only footsteps,” often shared with hikers before they hit the trail. This sums up the ethic of LNT well, the idea of leaving a wild place just as pristine as you found it, or perhaps even just a bit more.
Practicing LNT principles can take many forms, from being sure to step only on marked trails, to making sure not to harm vegetation, to maintaining safe distances from wildlife. By exposing our students to this ethic when we are out in the field, we hope to instill in them a sense of responsibility for our public lands and a sense of empowerment to maintain the integrity of these wild places. In short, we strive to make our students stewards of meaningful places.
This ethic of stewardship applies not only to our natural places, but also to our built spaces through our policy of “hands-to-work.” Hands-to-work is essentially the regular set of chores and duties that all members of the Teton Science Schools community – students, field instructors, faculty, and directors – participate in. It can look like washing dishes in the dining lodge after a meal, sweeping lodge floors the day a school group leaves, or taking out all of the garbage and recycling from our office spaces. Due to our limited janitorial staff, the participation of all TSS community members in hands-to-work is vital to our everyday functioning and maintains the integrity of the spaces we use.
But the value of hands-to-work is much bigger than that. It lies not only in the utilitarian function of maintaining clean and welcoming spaces. Hands-to-work takes those principles of stewardship of place, from LNT, and applies them to the more tangible spaces of our dining room, our outfitting building, our offices, and our lodges. These are places that we use every day, places where we can clearly see the impacts of our actions. I believe that through hands-to-work, we cultivate a true pride for our campus in all employees and participants. When we nurture pride for place and connection to place, we instill a drive to preserve the integrity of those places for the next group of students, the next administrative meeting, the next TSS employees working in, and caring for, these places.
This week, I sought the opinions of a few of my peers on the importance of hands-to-work. Following the sound of the music pouring out of the dish pit during breakfast, I found one of our AmeriCorps members, Joey Lane, washing dishes with two visiting middle school students. “[Hands-to-work] teaches the students responsibility and appreciation for our school,” Joey told me. “And for us instructors, it really helps us understand the complexities and inner workings of thisbeautiful place.” Later that day, while she was sweeping the floor of her room, I asked a student from my field group what she thought about hands-to-work: “If we all work together, the cleaning gets done faster so that we can enjoy more of our day . . . . It teaches us to be responsible with our time and also responsible for the space we use.”
Hands-to-work is yet another way we plant the seeds of social responsibility in our students, an ethic that they can take with them wherever they go once they leave Teton Science Schools. From Field Education participants who may have only been on campus for a few days, to directors who have been with TSS for over a decade, we all form part of one unified community bound by a thread of stewardship. In the words of Joe Petrick, Vice President of Field Education, “Hands-to-work is not only the foundation of the community and culture at TSS, but also one of the most memorable and impactful learning experiences for all our participants and staff. It is the embodiment of our mission and approach to developing leadership."
From all of us here at Teton Science Schools, we thank each member of the ever-expanding community of individuals that help to maintain the integrity of our beautiful places here in Jackson, Kelly, Victor, Moose - and beyond!
Pictured, from top: AmeriCorps member Joey Lane and middle school students, Director of Wildlife Expeditions Patrick Leary, departing middle school student, and Marketing and Communicationsl Specialist Shellie Keegan and Instructional Techonology Specialist Reid Bauer.