Coming Home...

Mollie Williams, Manager of Career Development

My love of experiential education was inspired by and solidified when I lived on a sailboat with my family when I was 8 years old. While my brother, sister and I followed the Calvert School Homeschooling curriculum, the real learning took place outside of those morning “schooling” hours. As children, we explored islands, befriended locals, caught our own food, navigated, and studied weather patterns. We each played a role on board with important responsibilities. Learning was hands on, meaningful, and authentic.

It was not until I was 38 when I had the opportunity to participate in an Outward Bound course. Drawn back to the sea, I selected the all-women's sailing off the coast of Maine course. Departing from Wheeler Bay, I left my husband and three children behind to join a group of 8 women, strangers to me, for an adventure of a lifetime. I relished in the challenges of rowing in the cold rain day after day, rock climbing in the wind and fog, and reflecting during my solo. This experience both challenged me and reminded me of my love for the sea and the outdoors.

I have been in education for 25 years, as a middle school teacher, coach, club leader, outdoor education field trip leader, and administrator. During my educational career in independent schools, I have always been the voice advocating for outdoor education experiences for students. Out of a serious concern for the state of the current culture in which our children are growing up, I believe that getting children disconnected from electronics and out into the natural world is more important than ever. I have designed and led outdoor education field trips at The Mountain Institute in West Virginia, Echo Hill Outdoor School in Maryland, and Outward Bound in Maryland, to name a few. Each experience was transformative. Students were disconnected from electronics and social media for days at a time, and as a result, they learned what it felt like to live in the moment, connect with nature, build relationships with others that were based on live interpersonal connections, contribute to the local community and environment, and gain practical leadership skills. Upon their return home, children felt centered, renewed, connected, and prepared to participate more fully in school, in their home, and in their communities.

For two summers, I led a summer program called “Quest.” Public and private school teachers in Baltimore, Maryland joined forces to guide middle school students in a creative problem solving journey that tackled real challenges in their local community. Students worked together with Post-it Notes and whiteboards to find solutions to the problems by which they were directly impacted. For example, after studying food deserts in the city of Baltimore, students designed vertical farms to combat the problem. Teachers acted as guides, asking questions and challenging the students to think, inquire, challenge. After identifying the problem, students formed teams that began to tackle the issue of what could be done about the problem. In the process, these students discovered that in order to come up with meaningful and sustainable solutions, they needed to know about the city’s geography,  climate, real estate, transportation, and economy. As a result of their research, they became responsible and contributing citizens. They returned to their schools inspired, engaged and empowered, knowing that they indeed have the skills and ability to make a difference.

As a result of my personal and professional experiences over the years, joining the IYRS family in June 2019 was a natural fit for me, and in many ways, I have felt like I was coming home. In addition to re-entering the yachting industry after many years, I have been able to immerse myself in an educational culture that is based around hands-on experiential learning, which I truly believe is the most meaningful type of learning. An IYRS education incorporates the “21st Century Skills” that employers are looking for. An IYRS education is:

Project-and Problem-Based: In diverse teams, students identify problems and explore solutions together in a hands-on setting.

Collaborative: Students gain experience working in collaborative environments that foster communication, teamwork, empathy, and patience to real life problems. 

Authentic: Students will work on real-world, authentic projects that prepare them for careers in the industry.

Inclusive: Our students come from very different backgrounds and ages. By working together on a shared problem, they learn the importance of teamwork and communication, and they come to realize that working together can be far more powerful than working in isolation.

Given the current state of the world, the value of hands-on, experiential learning has only become more apparent to me. While Zoom and other web-based software has allowed us to communicate and move forward with some projects and content delivery, it does not replace the person-to-person contact and the hands-on experiences. If we are going to continue to learn and grow, we need to roll up our sleeves and get dirty. I pray that day can come sooner than later!