- Andrew Coburn
Advisory Spotlight: Get Outside with The MET in Providence, RI
From school-wide camping trips to student-run podcasts and school in the park, Andrew Coburn at The MET High School in Providence, Rhode Island has been working to embed the 6 measures of healthy living into all aspects of the school day.
We connected with Andrew to share how the Big Picture Living program is working in his school and to share ideas on how to start.
“Just jump in and be fearless and ready to temporarily fail in some aspects. Putting the health of our students and immersing in the 6 measures is an important part of education, particularly the personalized education of Big Picture Learning, ” Andrew says.
Read on to learn more!
Q: Can you share a bit about your school/advisory?
I am lucky to be at The Met in Providence, the original Big Picture Learning school. The Met not only gives me access to, and the support of, amazing, passionate colleagues, but also great autonomy to pursue education in a manner best suited for each of our students. Advisors progress through high school along with our advisories, and we are 10th graders this year, so both of my students’ high school years have been impacted by COVID. However, they have also had the benefit of spending each of these years in an advisory who spends two days a week learning in the 435 beautiful acres of Roger Williams Park, an urban “jewel’ that features a zoo, museum of natural history, botanical center, a carousel, 400 year old cottage, Victorian event space, boathouse, police horse stables and wonderful landscaping and natural features.
Q: We all have to start somewhere, how did your healthy living journey with students begin?
To be honest it’s a journey I have always been on, especially the MOVE part. I started after college as an assistant gym teacher/after school provider in California, and I haven’t stopped playing and encourag
ing physical activity in schools ever since. After I taught in a stifling and rigid public middle school for a few years I really thought education wasn’t the career for me and began working at a community center in Oakland during after school and weekend hours. We would take the kids camping, swimming in lakes of the hills, kayaking in the estuary, climbing mountains and doing yoga on cliffs in the Sierra Nevada, and they loved it. I saw outlooks on life change and attribute that to movement, nature, and the collaborative effort that many of these activities in the natural world require.
At The Met MOVE, CHILL and SOCIAL are a vital part of almost anything that we do. Every year I take kids camping on Cape Cod and sometimes New Hampshire, we climb mountains as a whole school and take two whole school trips to the ocean every year to walk the sands and body surf the waves.
Meeting my colleague Ed, who began as a math (QR) teacher at The Met almost 10 years ago, as well as the quickly deepening crisis of teenage lethargy amidst technology addiction, encouraged us to take this further at The Met. Ed and I started a bike club that included an after-school program and cyclocross race team and we began various environmental partnerships in the community which got kids into the outdoors. About four years ago one of my students began interning at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center and was able to grow food that she could share with members of the advisory. More and more I was seeing kids subsist on Mountain Dew and Doritos and I became determined to get them into a garden. This led to my forming of a partnership with Providence Parks at the start of the 2019-2020 school year which has allowed my class to have school in the park two days a week, even while everyone else was distance learning during parts of COVID.
Q: What worked and what didn’t?
Within the context of the six measures, much more has fail
ed than succeeded, but the fact that we have had success has made the effort worth it.
Getting kids to MOVE is actually not that difficult. Yes, there is a tendency towards lethargy, but adolescents and teenagers will usually respond to opportunities to be active, as long as it's not too strenuous. Students who whined about walking, now take extra hikes in the woods at lunch. I have seen kids greatly increase their stamina on bicycles, and students are taking on our personal health plan challenges to engage in walking, yoga, and strength training.
NUTRITION is very difficult to change. I have given kids beautiful fresh vegetables from our garden and had them refuse to try them. I have shown students Supersize Me, and some students have reflected that it made them want to go to McDonald’s. But to me, this displays the reason that we must accept this challenge; our children are being poisoned by diets tha
t are depriving them of nutrients that are needed to thrive and our food system is set up to produce exactly that. This is an injustice and what better and more relevant topic to discuss in school than that?
RECHARGE is also a difficult one these days, with so many youth bringing iPhones or Netflix to bed; but actually taking on documentation and watching the videos from students on Big Picture Living have helped some of my students.
At The Met, SOCIAL and CHILL are paramount and we offer much more social/emotional support for students as well as opportunities to work and play together, and students report being much more relaxed and socially happy than they do at other local high schools. Having school in Roger Williams Park has even deepened our ability to thrive in these areas of mental health and personal happiness.
Q: Can you share a breakthrough/ aha moment?
My involvement in this work really has been a progression that has deepened gradually over time, but a few moments come to mind over the years. The first was when most of the participants who were required to come to my biking after school program, and would have rather been in the recording studio program or open gym, excitedly signed up for our bikes through the city streets voluntarily second semester.
Another came when Elliot Washor invited my student Jada and me out to San Diego for a youth botanical training, and hands-on experience, and some great vegan eating at Olivewood Gardens with Paul Hudak, Jack Forrest and some other gardening experts. I knew then that I needed to find a way to keep our gardening going after Jada graduated and it needed to expand.
Finally, a breakthrough moment was when I realized that Nancy, our head of school and Wendy, Superintendent of Parks in Providence, were going to give me the chance to actually run my advisory in the park. My brain immediately began creating related projects, activities and curriculum and it hasn’t turned off yet; Big Picture Living has only added another layer to it.
hat is one piece of advice you would give to a school looking to begin?
Just jump in and be fearless and ready to temporarily fail in some aspects. Putting the health of our students and immersing in the 6 measures is an important part of education, particularly the personalized education of Big Picture Learning.
Start with having each of the students have a personal health plan that they can document in a really simple way each week. Every teenager, and also every adult, needs to work on at least one of the six measures; improving their fitness, eating a more nutritious diet, getting healthy sleep, connecting with friends, avoiding harmful substances, or being more relaxed and less anxiety ridden. Just choosing one of these and setting a SMART goal around it is enough to start.
Another place to begin is staff passion that can inspire kids. If a staff member makes a great smoothie, have a smoothie Friday afternoon (after COVID). If one of your staff members can do a 5K in 19 minutes, maybe they want to start an after school running club. I have done yoga with students before school and other students who I drop to the floor for 25 push ups with whenever we make eye contact together in the halls. Already there are enough resources on Big Picture Living, and advocates of this work reachable by email, to get a school program started and many ways to expand over time from there.
Q: What other projects are in the works?
We are making another run at recording episode 2 of the podcast All Things Us.
Janet and I are starting a nutrition club in 3 weeks that will last about 2 months and has student documentation built in Nutrition Class.
I have 3 student/athletes and am hoping to get out to film some footage of them training and giving inspirational messages
How is your school using the 6 measures? We would love to spotlight your advisory on our blog. Send an email to Isary at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.