bri on the AT

Adventure Time on the Appalachian Trail

on-the-Trail schooling

What I submitted the “Massachusetts Notice of Intent to Pursue a Program of Home Education” to the school District when unenrolling Cambyr

for 8th grade 2019-2020 school year, March – June 2020 (naturally extending into July and Aug)

Free-form learning – introduction

I have always felt a strong desire to homeschool my kids. At first, I thought I wanted to have a solid curriculum and make sure they were exceeding school district requirements. But after helping out in the classroom throughout preschool and elementary school I realized they deserved more. They deserved to explore the world freely at their own pace and in their own unique ways. They deserved to be trusted. They have innate curiosities that need to develop on their own with their own guidance system in order to truly blossom. They deserved freedom to explore and be bored and find the creativity and passion within without someone else’s fears and anxieties influencing them into constant entertainment and distraction from who they really are. They deserved a new paradigm, one that will enable them to be powerful creators of their lives for the rest of their lives. 

Watching my daughter transition from a very regulated elementary experience to a do-nothing fifth-grade year was an awakening of sorts for me. I helped her study and memorize and practice and work and perform all through elementary school. She struggled. She hated to write, but she loved telling stories, yet the markings on her paper told her her story wasn’t as important as all the little punctuation marks were. It didn’t matter that she understood concepts of math and science if she didn’t understand the confusing way the questions were posed on tests. In fifth grade, as she transitioned into middle school and becoming an independent student, I took a huge step back and away from her academic standing. Instead, I allowed her to be responsible for how she wanted it to turn out. I didn’t feed her with fear that if she got bad grades now it would ruin the rest of her life. I didn’t contribute any belief about the numbers on the papers she brought home determining her character or her path in life. Instead, I just waited, trusted and let go. While I watched her grades plummet, I watched her sense of freedom grow. I understood that like a seed planted in the spring which silently germinated without indication of progress until it’s glorious first appearance in the summer, so was happening with my daughter. And at the end of fifth grade with comparably low grades to the rest of the school, all that mattered was that she was happy. And that happiness turned into excitement and curiosity and desire to explore. Learning became a passion of hers because she found what she loved and just kept doing them. She owned her path. I watched her over the next two and a half years proclaim each year was getting easier and easier and that she never really studied because she just researched what she was interested in…so it was all pleasurable for her. Now, in eighth grade, she is a straight-A student and advanced in Algebra. And yet, none of that matters as much to me as the fact that she is happy, loves everything about herself, knows she has many interests and talents and loves to pursue them all, and that life feels easy for her. 

This is how I choose to homeschool her now as we embark on the last 4 months of the eighth grade. I will allow her to design her own path and let her take the lead on the curriculum. I will follow my instincts and timing to wait and see, allow her the act of doing nothing because, in that beautiful art of allowing, we allow for something greater to be, something that is internally driving her instead of external forces pushing her in directions she may not want to go, be ready to go, or need to go. I will make the following topics always available to her but there is a good chance she will pick her own and dive deeper than I ever could have imagined. And most likely will both get a priceless education from it that will significantly enhance the rest of our lives.

LANGUAGE ARTS

Cambyr will be keeping a blog and vlog so she can continue to write essays, creative writing, and poetry about anything and everything we encounter along the trail. I foresee these including, but not being limited to, the culture of the people on the trail (thru-hiker mentality), observation of nature the seasons and outdoor environments, special and uncommon moments in connecting with others as well as herself. Insights into the human/animal psyche and behavior as well as her own observation of the journey from her eyes.

Cambyr will also have access to YA booklists from her former LA teacher as well as cell service and solar power to charge devices so she can both read and write each day she desires.

GEOGRAPHY/HISTORY

It will be quite an amazing experience to pass through 14 states of the US on foot. Feeling the actual geography every step we take for multiple hours a day. This intimate contact with the earth for such an extended period of time will instill lessons of the land more deeply than just reading could do. At each point of interest are placards that explain histories of the areas we will be in, and we will be able to weave together our own impressions of the stories we will hear. We are eager to take advantage of being near so many amazing historical landmarks on our journey and intend to spend some time visiting Washing D.C. on some of our rest days.

SPANISH

Cambyr has requested to be conversational in Spanish within the six months we are gone. I am conversational myself (having lived in Argentina for over a year and use Spanish every chance I get) and have laid the foundation with her this school year. It will be a joyous free-flowing experience that will be guided by her interest in communicating what is around her. The vocabulary will grow from need and the refinement of using the vocabulary will grow from fun. We are always making up games to help things flow and feel natural.

MATH

Cambyr will be accessing Kahn academy Algebra so she can continue to work on math at her leisure while we are gone. We expect to have a few days a month entirely off the trail to resupply and rest and on those days she has been excitedly planning to dive into math and take concepts with her on the trail to study in-between resting periods.

SCIENCE

Earth and life sciences will be observed and lived while hiking for six months on the Appalachian Trail. I have a year of Herbalism school behind me and plan to focus on plant identification and use for nutrition as well as medicine. Physics will feel very natural to study as we work with energy in various forms and how it affects the matter that it is acting upon. And the various forms of matter we encounter on the trail and at campsites and their interactions will be our focus of Chemistry. We are also looking into doing a joint project (hopefully with either UNH or another interested entity) on water testing along the way if it is feasible to do with minimum weight requirements.

MUSIC

I will be bringing my backpacking guitar and exposing Cambyr to the joys of becoming familiar with the fretboard. We will makeup songs and find familiar tunes and learn strumming patterns and finger placement and play around with the vibrations that we can make. We also love to sing and will be singing along everywhere we go with and without the guitar. In doing so, she will be naturally introduced to rhythm, beats, timing, harmonies, scales, and triads.

PHYSICAL EDUCATION

We will be attempting to hike on average 13 miles per day. I am certified by NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) with a wilderness first aid certificate and Cambyr will be receiving all the training I received throughout the time we are out. She understands the importance of connecting to her body daily and listening to what it is telling her (especially in the way of hot spots heating up on her feet and to take care of them before blisters begin!) Life on the trail will be a natural physical education that will last for 2,000+ miles!

life experience and/or qualifications of the instructor of curriculum

Introduction

My name is Briana Sullivan, I am the mother of Cambyr Sullivan, my first child at 13 years old (14 years old on May 10th) and Trey Sullivan, my second child, at 11 years old; who will remain in the Amesbury Middle School for the 2019-2020 school year. I am the middle child (three older brothers within 4 years of my age and 3 younger siblings 7-10 years younger than myself) in a family of seven children with both parents High School teachers in the California school system. I was born 11/21/1972.

EDUCATION/DEGREES

School was easy for me when I was young. I needed more of a challenge in 2nd grade and so was able to test out of half the 2nd-grade year in Provo, Utah and finish the year as a 3rd grader (which moved me from being the oldest in the class to the youngest). I attended three Jr. High Schools (two for 7th grade and one for 8th) transitioning homes between Utah and California. By my Junior year in high school, I was in all advanced honors classes and maintaining above average grades (with the weighting system all considered A’s). I left in the early part of my senior year (just after I turned 17) taking the GED to leave high school and begin attending a 2-year community college. After a few years at the college, I committed to a 1 ½ year mission for a church that allowed me to live in Argentina and become fluent in Spanish. When I returned I did a bit more schooling then headed for seasonal work in Alaska (Naknek fish cannery and Denali National Park) then to Utah for two seasons working at Alta Ski Resort and a season working in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. I ended up in Massachusetts gaining residency and transferring all my undergraduate credits to UMASS, Lowell. I graduated from UMASS in 2002 with a Computer Science degree and a math minor. I then received a teaching assistantship at the University of New Hampshire teaching computer science while I worked on my Master’s degree in Computer Science with a focus on graphics and data visualization. I was then offered a research assistantship for the last year of my Master’s degree studies and graduated in 2004.  

I also took a first year apprenticeship in herbalism at the Gaia School of Healing in Putney, Vermont in 2019. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn more about plant identification as well as appropriate uses for nutritional value as well as a medicinal aid. I will forever be a lifelong learner of plants and self-sufficiency and Gaia school was only the beginning for me. I have also had my own garden for over a decade and have grown my own edibles as well as compost all of our household food items.

TEACHING/VOLUNTEERING EXPERIENCE

I have early experience teaching gymnastics to all levels while I was in college. I was also a counselor in training for two summer camps for kids from 12 – 18. I have experience teaching English as a foreign language while I was in Argentina, and in doing so solidified much of my own English and Spanish skills. I have been a volunteer at Outdoor Education and worked as a volunteer with children and horses for therapy. I have also taught a quick start tennis program to elementary school kids for seven years in Amesbury as well as a volunteer in the classroom throughout my kids’ time in elementary school. I have volunteered for both Habitats for Humanity to help build shelters (and built my own tiny home too) as well as Our Neighbors Table. 

TRAVEL/SURVIVAL SKILLS EXPERIENCE

I have traveled to 28 countries (29% Europe, 8% Asia, 7% North America, 35% South America) I have visited 82% of the US. I have hiked/camped solo in remote Denali, Alaska wilderness, Jirisan National Park in South Korea, two weeks alone in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and walked from Monaco to Nice on the GR trail. I have a NOLS certificate for backcountry first aid.  Can identify beneficial plants for nutrition and medical aid.

MUSIC

I had always been a member of the choir growing up singing alto to soprano. I taught myself how to play the piano and read music and have been learning the guitar on and off for the past 5 years. I love music and guitar has made it more portable and more feasible to dive deeper into. I have been more consistently focused on guitar in the past year and I am now involved in a guitar mastery intensive program that is already helping me to understand music in a new and beautiful way. At its core, music is really just another language, but a more universal one and one, I feel, is easier to understand than trying to find the right word to express a feeling or thought. 

LANGUAGE SKILLS

I have always wanted to be a linguist and become a polyglot. Cambyr has reinspired that in me again! I have been able to speak Spanish since the early 1990’s and find many opportunities to practice still. Teaching Cambyr along the trail will be a thrilling experience as I shift from a formatted lesson plan to one of fun and freedom. I have also been learning French and am able to make sense of what I read now, soon to be speaking with my own mother (who is fluent and taught at the high schools in California). I have also dabbled in Finnish and because of that decided to study all the languages that intrigue me…so I am currently studying 25 languages and enjoying the commonalities I am finding and the new way of shifting my brain to understand these various forms of communication. 

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