While some island residents stood in major intersections last week holding signs urging others to vote for the Vashon Island School District capital and technology levy, several students took to a much more mellow setting.
They were not campaigning for any ballot initiative; rather, they were rediscovering themselves.
Ninth graders from Vashon Island High School participated in a workshop with the island-based group Axiom Equine, which provides learning and psychotherapy through horses. A story about the grade-schoolers’ experience appears in this week’s Beachcomber.
For several hours over the course of two days, Feb. 5 and 7, students learned how the horses would react to their lead depending on their mood and actions. The animals served as a catalyst to “assist students in understanding and growing their sense of self, their non-verbal signals and how they acquire and communicate consent,” according to high school principal Danny Rock in a letter he sent to journalists inviting them to the workshop.
In a few written responses from students that Axiom Equine shared with The Beachcomber, one pupil summed up how horses could give them insight.
“Horses seem to be a very clear metaphor for different situations in our lives,” the student wrote. “The only difference is horses clearly project the truth and result in showing you how your actions/connections affect others.”
The student said the workshop had a positive impact: “I know I will now approach problem-solving, leadership roles and relationships in a more open-minded, positive way that involves more self-reflection.”
It’s opportunities like the workshop — provided thanks to a $300,000 grant from the Minnie Perkins Foundation — that gets students learning in ways they could not inside the classroom.
Not only that, it’s an example of what our schools can provide for the island’s youth beyond a levy that provides other much-needed things, like well-maintained buildings and brand new technology.
Those necessary intangible things students need beyond capital projects and, say, IT infrastructure, are leadership and communications skills, which Rock said he hoped the students would gain from the equine workshops. While they may have part-time jobs that require supervision or are in the process of drafting a college admissions essay, high school students should understand that if they learn how to lead and communicate now, it will pay off for them when they go out into the real world.
It is worth pondering, too, what VIHS students — who are more connected to technology than any other generation — took away from the mere interaction with horses. Hopefully, they learned about how they can gain fulfillment without technology, like their smartphones, around them all the time.
The workshop will likely not be the last time during their high school tenure that students venture outside the classroom to learn. It really is one of the best opportunities for them. While islanders can argue over the need for renewing a levy, it’s hard to criticize a workshop like the one at Axiom Equine.