- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

BAYFIELD, Wis. (AP) - Getting students fired up about the place they live and the communities they are a part of can be a difficult task for educators. In what was initially considered a drastic move, Rick Erickson, Bayfield High School physics, chemistry and alternative education teacher, decided to take a journey to Lake Baikal in Siberia this summer with seven of his students as a way to promote place-based learning initiatives, foster community ties and to compare the cultures surrounding another one of the world’s largest lakes.

“Lake Superior gets in your soul and it’s part of who you are,” Erickson said “A lot of people grow up in these places and take it for granted without really understanding the value of the lake. We thought a way to get them to understand this is by taking them to the world’s other greatest lake where there is also this presence.”

Participants from the trip captivated an audience of approximately 65 people at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute on Wednesday, Oct. 22, with tales of their cultural immersion, adventures, mishaps and lessons learned during their two-week experiential excursion in Siberia.

“The focus was to go to Baikal. to take place-based education to the extreme,” Erickson said.

The idea for the trip came to Erickson two years ago and his students and members of the community worked tirelessly to make his dream a reality, The Daily Press (https://bit.ly/1351tLd ) reported.

“We worked very hard to get it off the ground. Applied for grants and had a lot of support,” Erickson said.

The 15-day trip was funded by grants and donations provided by 41 area businesses, organizations and individuals.

Mark Peterson, director of the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, introduced the speakers by reflecting on the fact that water is an elixir of life and inspiration for people across the globe, a lesson many of the students said they learned in Russia.

“Lakes are miraculous physical spaces, as well as biological spaces, that can speak to us in any number of different ways if we are tuned in to listen,” Peterson said.

All of the presenters said the trip exceeded their expectations and provided them lessons that will last a lifetime.

Stormey Charette, Bayfield High School senior, said living with host families made her realize how privileged people are in the United States, a lesson she couldn’t have learned without the trip.

“Going to Russia made me realize a lot, like as Americans we take a lot of things for granted. Going to Russia makes you realize how privileged you are,” Charette said. “They do not have washers and dryers in their houses, their cold water goes out for days, they have to boil their water before they drink it.”

Many of the students said when they returned home, they realized just how supportive and cohesive the communities surrounding Lake Superior are.

“We have a really good community here, but over there their community is different, basically non-existent,” Charette said.

Erickson and students from the trip agree that although the culture of Russia differs greatly from the United States, “teenagers are still teenagers” and families still care for one another unconditionally.

One of the biggest challenges of the trip for many participants was the language barrier. According to Erickson, the language barrier also served as a way for the English-speaking students to make a deeper connection with students learning English in Siberia.

“It was pretty cool to be in a group of adults who can’t talk to each other and you have a 10- or 15-year-old doing the translation,” Erickson said.

For Bayfield High School junior Eve Smith, the language barrier allowed her to feel more comfortable sharing her talents with the public. During the trip, Smith was asked to sing for a cart full of people on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

“I don’t really know what it was, the language barrier or being in a different place, but for the first time I wasn’t scared to sing in front of people,” Smith said.

Dave Doering, trip chaperone and filmmaker, produced a film titled “Superior-Baikal Friend Forever” that encapsulates the spirit of the trip and the ways in which it benefited all participants.

“There was definitely a spirit of Baikal, just like most of us realize it here that there is a spirit of Lake Superior,” Doering said. “As a group, the spirit of Baikal guided us, and continues to guide us today, and encouraged this interaction between the kids. we are more alike than we are different.”

Due to the success of the trip and the strong connections made across seas, Erickson plans to host a cultural exchange program during the summer of 2015 for students in Siberia. Erickson is currently seeking donations to help fund activities and trip scholarships for Siberian students coming to Bayfield.

“Some of the richest experiences we had were living with the Siberian families,” Erickson said. “We want to be able to provide similar experiences for them.”

Erickson was awarded the Wisconsin’s 2014 Teacher of the Year for his dedication to his students and for being an advocate of hands-on learning experiences in the public school setting.

___

Information from: The Daily Press, https://www.ashlandwi.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide