Tag Archives: salisbury

Spirit of the Couch

12801250_1168729283138324_3296289806290059021_nSometimes ideas come to me and I don’t know exactly how they will manifest, but they often find a way into my reality in some form or another. As a teacher of teens at a continuation high school, I am challenged to find ways to reach young minds and motivate them to learn. I believe that life experiences teach more than pencil and paper so I try to squeeze in as many field trips as we can afford throughout the year. Other than field trips, this idea has been brewing: create some sort of business that the students can run from the school, like a bakery or producing some sort of craft that can be sold in local stores. They could get hands-on experience marketing, helping customers, dealing with money, making products, etc. I’ve been thinking about this for a few years, but I haven’t been able to make anything happen with it until this last year when someone asked, “Do you think we could have a rummage sale at the school to raise money for the Equine Assisted Learning classes for Red Bluff youth?”

“Sure,” I said, but I wasn’t positive it could really happen since I’m not the ultimate decision maker. The need to help students meet the new graduation requirement of community service made the idea more acceptable so the higher ups approved the event. We were off and running. Our school was going to hold its first fundraising event, a Spring Bazaar for a community organization, Daystar Ranch. Not quite a long term business, like a bakery, but a definite start.aasale

As far as all the planning, Daystar representatives did most of the work of gathering rummage sale items and promotion.  I assisted with asking staff for donations and encouraging students to help out on the day of the event.  I also had students hang up flyers around town, assist with moving rummage sale items into storage on campus, and pricing items. The Daystar representatives, Liz and Joni, were super enthusiastic and motivated. They asked for donations from the community and acquired many raffle prizes, including an ATV four wheeler! They even found entertainment and a food vendor for the event. Their high energy and motivation was what made it happen. While they were literally jumping for joy, I experienced a few moments of panic when I thought we were in over our heads and worried that students might not end up helping as much as we anticipated.

4:30 a.m. on the day of the event, I woke my six year old son and we prepared for the day. I grabbed some food and toys for my son, downed an iced coffee, and headed out with more coffee for the students who I planned to pick up a 5:30 a.m.  While driving to get them, I questioned whether or not they’d actually be there.  I mean, what teenager wakes up that early to go to school on a Saturday? I also questioned whether any of the other students who said they’d show up early would be at the school when I arrived. I didn’t know what I would do if they didn’t show, because there was no way that we could get everything ready in time without their help. Guess what?

Every one of the students showed up! Yep. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw those tired faces staring back at me before the sun had even risen. Not only did they show up; they worked hard. They moved pile after pile after pile of stuff out of the storage room out onto the basketball court. They set up tables, moved furniture, monitored the parking lot, helped customers, hung up clothes, made announcements, took direction from several adults, cleaned up, entertained my son, and a few even danced some Zumba with me to entertain to crowd. Talk about amazing.

So many times during the day, I would look around in awe because I felt so proud of them. I didn’t have to tell them to get to work or to stop messing around. They would ask me what they could do to help or they would just take the initiative and help a customer carry her things to her car. They gave it their all and asked when we’d do it again.

At the end of the event, 4:30 p.m. we were all exhausted. Some of the students had already left, but many stayed the entire day. They gathered together on the only comfortable resting place, the worn out, unsellable couch. That beast of a couch had been moved so many times that it seemed to suck the energy out of us all. We weren’t sure why we accepted it as a donation, but there it was, bringing us together, serving a purpose. We rested, took some pictures, and laughed. One student put a mask that he’d found in the rummage sale on a round pillow from the couch. He raised it in the air and yelled, “Spirit of the couch!” Everyone repeated in unison, “Spirit of the couch!” and laughed. We put a “free” sign on the couch and moved it unto the curb. Someone eventually took it home, but without the masked pillow.

Several months since the huge event that left me so tired I could barely move the next day, a student brought in the masked couch pillow and said, “Spirit of the couch.”  I laughed and repeated the chant. I know this sounds silly, but silently I thanked the couch for what it had taught me. When I saw all those students show up that day and work so hard, I felt a bit ashamed that I thought they wouldn’t show. Based on past experiences, I had reasonable doubts. Sometimes, with all the hard knocks they’ve experienced, the students can lack motivation and don’t want to participate in anything. In the past, they’ve failed in school, been hurt, and lost some of their youthful enthusiasm. Life has worn them out a bit, kind of like that couch has been worn out, but not as much as people might mistakenly think. With enough opportunities and a purpose, they will show their great potential. As worn out as that couch was, it served us well and held us up off the ground. Its potential not lost because of hard times.

My love for teaching grew that day, which I didn’t think was possible. The students inspired me to want to organize more hands-on, real life events where they have the opportunity to shine. The ideas are brewing. Something new and exciting is on the horizon.

Spirit of the Couch!!!



Equine Learning – Overcoming Obstacles

Equine Learning


Sometimes, if we’re lucky or if we ask, the universe brings us people whose arms are open and full of love.

It all began a few months ago when Joni walked into Salisbury High School to talk to me about duplicating an equine learning program that we had several years ago. She had been working together with the woman I used to work with and really wanted teens to come to her ranch like they had before at Day Star Ranch. Excited about the new opportunity, I visited her ranch one Saturday afternoon with my two sons. The minute we arrived, I knew we would be working together in the future. The warmth and positive energy of Joni and her ranch made us want to return soon and that we did.

This week we completed our second adventure with Joni and her three horses, Cali, Dusty, and Regina. Fifteen students, a colleague, and I arrived at her ranch in Cottonwood, CA and were greeted with enthusiasm, smiles and hugs by Joni, her sister Liz, Jim and two other adult volunteers. It felt like we’d arrived home for the holidays. Their faces lit up and they couldn’t wait to take the group picture and give everyone a name tag so we could start the fun. For three hours we enjoyed an amazing opportunity to bask in the love and support created by a generous human heart, her horses, and equine learning activities.

First, we sat on bales of hay and discussed horse safety. Then, Jim asked the students to consider what obstacles they faced in life. After a short discussion, the students broke up into three groups of five students rotated through three different activities. One group worked on the fence line, boundaries. Another observed the group in the arena that had the task of connecting with the horses, building an obstacle, and moving the horses through the obstacle without talking or touching the horses. They could use anything in the arena to accomplish this goal.


Three horses gave the students the challenge of the day. They moved slowly or not at all as students walked a long side them and tried to get them to move. Sometimes a student would connect with a horse and it would walk a small distance, but not through the obstacle. Sometimes three students would gather around or in front of one horse and try to get it to move while the other two stood near the other horses. All three groups of teens followed the rules of the activity and never gave up. Although they all didn’t manage to move all of the horses through the obstacle that they created, they kept trying. No one stormed out of the arena in frustration. No one sat down in defeat. Every one of them stood by a horse and tried. Their success was in their resiliency; their willingness to keep on keeping on.


In the end, the facilitators coached the last group on how to move the horses and modify the obstacle for greater success. They created a pathway along the fence of the arena that the horses could pass through easily. They moved as a unit behind the horses and clapped their hands and put their arms up in the air to herd all three horses through the path. Success required thinking outside the box, combined energy, and teamwork.

Afterwards, the students had a chance to reflect and share their feelings and thoughts about the experience. Some felt frustration. Some realized that working as a team would have helped. Some had ideas for solving the problem, but didn’t feel confident to try them. They were asked to relate the experience to obstacles in their lives. The activity with the horses was a metaphor for the huge obstacles that life can throw at us. IMG_1627[1]

We discussed how, at times, we need to ask for help to accomplish our goals or resolve a problem and that’s okay. Or maybe we need to step back from the problem and look at it from another angle and approach in in another way. A student shared how the activity was difficult and how things in life can be difficult too. Watching the group move the horses in the end showed us that whatever the problem, we have to exert some energy to challenge the situation. It took combined energy to move the horses. Often it takes the combined energy of friends and family to help us get through challenges. And sometimes obstacles are there for the pure reason of teaching us a lesson. Whatever the obstacle, we can learn. Like one student said, “I learned ten ways not to move a horse.”

A morning at the ranch with three horses and some very loving, thoughtful, and generous adults gave the students so much more than they bargained for. They didn’t just pet horses and fix fence. They challenged themselves in new ways, reflected, grew, and much more. They learned about themselves and their classmates and took away some life lessons that will hopefully help them as they face obstacles in life. When they climbed into the vans and we headed out, several of them asked, “When will we do this again?”

Joni asked me the same thing before we left. The dates are set. No obstacles in the way of making this new equine learning adventure continue!