When Mikel, a middle school student, suggested that we just “run through the forest and learn while exploring the jungle” as a PE elective, I immediately took heed. I knew the area around Green School well, and felt that in the PE time I would be able to get the kids into places that looked and felt like the middle of the Jungle. I had no idea how much more I would learn from this class.
Our first run was not so much physical as social. We teamed up with the first graders, and went on a walk. The premise was that as middle schoolers, our eyes had become desensitized to the amazing natural world around us. Going on a walk with younger people would allow us some new perspective. A few minutes in, and I found myself handing around a golden orb weaving spider as large as my hand, to the fascination of the youth and terror of the other adults. That walk slowed our pace, but provided insight into the amazing opportunities to explore a new side of the Jungle Run: building relationships amongst our students.
A week later, I questioned my judgement in taking the kids down the river. After finding ourselves at a loss to progress further along the river bank, we attempted to backtrack up the slopes of the river, more jungle that I was personally comfortable with. Every crevice looked like a hiding place for a cobra, and I had lost control of my group of adventurers.
“Rumi, stop clambering up the cliff, it is just too steep” I shouted ahead as I saw some of our younger kids blaze their way up a steep slope.
“It is ok, Pak Noan, I can do it. The others are already at the top.” he replied.
Oh man… what had I got us into? Fortunately, I found an alternative way up the slope and was able to get the group up to the Kul-Kul Farm above us. There, I gave some stern warnings about risk assessment, and being empathetic to the needs to the group. This was truly learning by doing, even though the doing was kind of borderline insanity.
This event convinced me that more adults were needed on the Jungle Runs. A lead and caboose would keep things in check. Bashalah, an intern from Spain, and Aga, our new Green Studies team member, joined us for the rest of the runs. Their first experience was another exploration which was entirely different: going into a manmade cave which extended deep into the earth.
With many students in tow, I knew the limits of our exploration. We would proceed with caution, looking for signs on dangerous wildlife, and keeping within sight of the cave exit. 10 meters down one shaft we found a gecko nest full of eggs, with the mother clinging the roof above them. We also saw coconuts, which had fallen down a shaft, striving to grow towards the small light source above them. After leaving the cave, the kids were hooked: we needed to go back there and look deeper into that cave!
The next class every student came prepared, and we did a briefing at the mouth of the cave. As a group, we discussed the hazards or exploration, and indicators we need to be aware of. Curiosity is a strong driver, but how can we make rational calls in spite of the intoxicating desire to explore further? With flashlights in hand, we started towards the cave mouth only to be greeted by a emerald green snake slithering within vines directly above the cave mouth.
Ok, strike one… that was scary but not enough to call off our expedition. We were able to identify the snake as a red-tailed racer, a non-venomous snake. So, we continued with newfound caution and trepidation.
Six meters deeper into the cave, we noticed something on the floor. A sock? Dried leaves? As I approached, trembling slightly, it became clear that what we were seeing was in fact a snake skin.
It was enough to convince me not to look for strike three. We called off further cave exploration, and surprisingly (or not) no child protested. They too had taken in the indicators can came to a similar conclusion. This cave was not meant to be explored today.
The final Jungle Run classes involved similar challenges to overcome, and each time I saw students throw out a helping hand to their peers, so that as a group we could overcome greater challenges. On one run we climbed a dusty slope using a rope and lots of encouragement from one another. Another time I was in the tail of the group and caught up to some kids helping an Ibu push her motorbike up a hill. There was not a single class I did not come back feeling proud of the students’ behavior and attitude.
Gokcen, another intern who joined us for a couple classes, put it well. “It is so nice to see students enjoying the moment, not worried about what they needed to make or learn” she told me.
I agree completely. There is much value is liberating our students from a prescriptive learning process, and allowing them to help craft the skills and outcomes that the experience may produce. Jungle Run started with simple needs and expectations, but by the end of the class I felt we had created so much more than just a way to get fit and ask a few questions about nature.