An Interview with Alumni Stephanie Sexton

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Stephanie graduated from Ananda Living Wisdom School in 8th grade in 2000, before the school continued on through 12th grade. She graduated from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR in ’08 with her degree in Religious Studies. She also graduated from the highly acclaimed Ananda Yoga Teacher Training program in 2008.

Stephanie, could you tell us how you got involved with nature activities and outdoor education and why?

Two summers ago in 2008/2009 – I was a “climbing bum”, climbing all over Yosemite, Tahoe and the Mammoth area. Towards the end of the summer I was on my way back from a trip when I had an epiphany that I needed to work in a field where I could help empower youth in the outdoors. It hit me really hard. And I kept asking myself, “Why am I so passionate about this all of a sudden?” I ended up going to Hawaii that year working at Polestar.

In the spring Dominique S’s 8th grade class came to Polestar for their end of year class trip and I was given the opportunity to work with them in various ways: I taught yoga every morning and assisted them in whatever they needed like trips to the ocean, hiking out to the lava flow, and hiking down Waipio Valley to the incredible water falls there. I also was part of Polestar’s annual internship program that summer.

I came back to Ananda in the Fall of 2009 and by the Spring of 2010, I found Sierra Nevada Journeys, an experientially based environmental education outdoor school in Portola, CA. where I now work.

In our outdoor school, we have groups coming from the Sacramento and Reno areas who stay about a week to learn about forest ecology, pond ecology, natural systems and do leadership training. We play Bharat’s (Joseph Cornell) Sharing Nature Games, take them on hikes and do interactive activities that simulate how things live and thrive in nature work. It’s all experientially based. One game we play is called “Don’t touch my pine nuts!” where we are all squirrels. We have to collect poker chips which are our ‘pine nuts’ that we have to store for our winter food. The problems arise when another ‘squirrel’ steals our chips or the chips go bad because we store them in the wrong places. At the end of the session we count them to see who was most successful and then talk about disease and how some chips can’t be stored and they learn about the interactive processes of nature. They learn to appreciate the smallest things in nature and begin to think on their own about how the natural world works.

We also have a Ropes Course which teaches leadership training and other skills. And I just started teaching yoga and meditation.

When I attended Ananda School we often used the ‘Sharing Nature’ books and games. I began to appreciate how to be still and listen to the outdoors instead of just hiking through the country thinking idle thoughts. When I found Sierra Nevada Journeys, they had been using Bharat’s games in their courses for a long time! It helped me appreciate them in a deeper way, knowing others were using them too.

It’s so much fun. You see kids from the Sacramento area especially just enthralled by everything. Seeing that never gets old for me. Because- they always see everything so differently from country kids, it helps me to find new inspiration too because it really keeps it fresh every time. And the letters they write to us afterwards are very moving and encourage us to keep bringing a higher consciousness to all we do.

At the beginning and then at the end of the course, we ask the students to fill out a form to assess what they have learned regarding their confidence levels and self esteem. It’s always much greater afterwards. A girl wrote on her beginning assessment. On leadership abilities: “I just don’t like to talk. I think other people have better ideas”

At the end of the training, she gave herself a very high rating. Asked why the change? “I don’t know. I just feel important.”

By Durga Smallen