Community Members Add to the Rich Fabric of Academic Life

July 01, 2006 | Celina Worley

Ken Atkins, master carpenter and former apprentice with the National Historical Preservation Trust, wasn’t in his typical surroundings. Instead of being at his shop, he was in the classroom, explaining a variety of geometric principles to students at Orcas Christian School (OCS).

“Mr. Atkins didn’t think he would need math once he finished high school,” says tenth-grader Colton Guilford. “He didn’t even like it.” It wasn’t until years later when his son went through geometry that Atkins realized just how much high school geometry he did every day.

Throughout the school year, OCS has enjoyed a vibrant group of real-life educators: a massage therapist, spinner, physicist, chiropractor, businessman, an activist for humanity, and an innkeeper, to name a few. The innkeeper, Karen Elizabeth Rennie, has a masters in divinity and taught a class on Jewish culture while the literature class was reading Elie Wiesel’s book Night.

When the literature class finished Night, Lindsey Smith, a counselor and humanitarian activist, presented a two-day class on writing for change. “We have a responsibility to use our voice to help bring relief to those who suffer,” she shared with students. After educating them on the genocide occurring in Darfur, Sudan, Smith taught students how to write letters to local representatives and the president. Several students received replies.

Rebecca Ortman, a local chiropractor, joined the anatomy and physiology class to speak on back pain and nerve function and transmission. Later in the year, massage therapist Debbie Shaw helped students identify muscles through facial massages and jaw movement.

Drew Vandenberg, OCS business manager who donates much of his time to the school, taught an elective class called Fun with Money. A two-day field trip included a tour of the Mariners, Microsoft, Costco headquarters, a law firm and Todd Shipyard.

OCS views the joining of traditional classroom instruction with community real-life experts as an integral part of 21st-century educational experience. “There’s nothing like life experience to bring learning full circle. Community members teach life experience and time-tested skills in a memorable way,” says Roger Worley, OCS team leader. “They provide variety and perspective for the students and make them aware of the possibilities for applying their knowledge.”