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More Than Just a Motto: Nobody Eats Alone at Harborside

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    William Haithcock

When harborside academy opened, the motto “Nobody eats alone at Harborside” was merely a set of words – a nice way to think about community. Five years later, the phrase has come to mean “Nobody should be left alone to solve any problem.” It stands for the value of getting to know others well and creating a school climate that celebrates both student academic growth and character development.

Harborside Academy in Kenosha, Wisconsin currently serves 440 high school students grades 9-12 and will add 150 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders in the fall of 2013. Kenosha sits in the center of a metropolitan strip that stretches from Chicago, Illinois to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While many of our programs have their roots in Expeditionary Learning’s Core Practices, much of our staff has additional training in team building and group process. Their expertise in group development and experiential education shapes our approach to establishing a positive school culture. In addition, we have eight staff members who have either been District or State Teacher of the Year or been awarded Distinguished Service Awards.

Learning in Community with Others

We believe outdoor education and adventure education are tools that can provide real-life experiences that teach us we are capable of more than we think. Each fall, the Crew teachers plan a three-day “camp” for their grade-level students. The middle school and freshman camps were initially designed specifically as “ground schools,” an opportunity to build relationships and explore the value of the Expeditionary Learning Design Principles. As our school has expanded, the faculty realized the fall camp experience allowed them to deepen their relationships with their students in important ways, and we expanded the program to each grade level. The sophomore and junior camps have become launching points or immersions for their expeditions. The senior camp, now fondly called “Seniors Setting Sail” is the initial planning retreat for Senior Projects. 

In addition to the camps, Harborside’s academic and character intensives are designed to support students who have yet to master the content of a given semester or need to refocus on their habits of work or commitment to school. These highly structured intensives have a service-learning requirement or result in a significant student project. Urban Photography students travel on the commuter rail to Chicago and by bus to Milwaukee to photograph the best and worst of what large urban communities have to offer. The Winter Survival intensive teaches students the nuances of winter camping. There are two Conservation Biology intensives, one in the winter where we help track and collect data on porcupines and one in the spring where our students work with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to collect needed data related to water quality and organism health. 

An Ethic of Service

A strong service ethic has been nurtured at Harborside by requiring service in Crew and integrating service learning in all expeditions and most intensives. Crew teachers facilitate discussions about service and community involvement, help students complete 15 hours of service beyond the school day, and provide time for students to share service experiences with their peers. In academic courses, our freshmen expedition engages biology students in prairie reconstruction and restoration at a local county park. Sophomore world history students write biographies about local veterans and celebrate the lives of these hometown heroes at a community dinner they host. As part of the Food and Justice for All expedition, our Junior class creates school gardens for every elementary school in our school district. Seniors, as part of their Seniors to Seniors expedition, help plan and facilitate the regional Alzheimer’s Walk and write memoirs of senior citizens in our community. Many of these service-learning projects completed in class have led to extracurricular service clubs that continue the work started in class. 

Relationship Development and Team Building

As the years have passed, we have deepened our understanding of the importance of relationship development and team building in creating a positive culture in our school. The Harborside staff with expertise in youth development, service learning, and adventure education have stepped forward to provide training and coaching. They help us to examine the parallels between the workshop model and the experiential learning cycle and to understand the intentional use of initiatives, team building challenges, protocols, and projects to facilitate deeper learning. 

Character Quest 

In a few weeks, we will head out to Galena, Illinois with about 40 Harborside and Carthage College students for a program I have called “Character Quest.” I started Character Quest because it allows me to bring together students from my school and Carthage College to develop student leaders. We read, reflect, and discuss leadership ideas. After the retreat, we meet once or twice a month throughout the school year to talk about how we can make Harborside Academy the best school we can be. We believe having students participate in this program helps assure that we can fully live into that motto, “Nobody eats alone at Harborside.” 

While we do so much more at Harborside, these structures are at the core of who we are. Creating a positive peer culture may be the most important service we offer to the students of Harborside. 

Bill Haithcock is the Principal of Harborside Academy in Kenosha, WI. He has been in education for 21 years and can be reached at whaitco@kusd.edu.