Whether or not you’re familiar with MPA’s curriculum, you’ve probably heard the term “adventure based learning” tossed around when there’s mention of our school. That’s because adventure based, or, “experiential” learning plays a large role in our mission to help students reach their educational and social potential. Quite simply, many of our students are here because they were unable to thrive in traditional classroom settings. They’re better learners when they can see, feel and experience things, first hand. That’s where adventure based learning comes into play. It’s a way of teaching that actually puts students out in real world settings, engages them in hands on activities and lets them actively participate and learn from their experiences. At MPA, our campuses are perfectly situated to allow our students to take advantage of our surroundings. You’ll find kids out hiking, biking, motorcycling, kayaking, dangling on high ropes courses or even exploring in caves. Learning what, you may ask? “About life sciences, biology, geology, philosophy, math and more,” says Mike Adamkowski, our Upper Valley Stewardship Center Director. “For every activity we take these kids on, I witness learning. From preparation and establishing safety protocols, to developing communication skills and making the connection between decisions and outcomes, these kids’ curiosity sparks are ignited. As an educator it’s incredibly rewarding to witness your students letting their guards down, exhibiting a sense of wonder and applying what they learn to real life.”
When you see MPA kids out on your next hike, bike, camping or kayaking adventure, keep in mind they’re not just out there having fun, they’re in their classroom, learning . . .
What can a donkey teach us about life? The question was recently put to task with the passing of Ethel, a longtime staple at MPA’s Pike Farm.
As it turns out, a lot.
Ethel arrived at the farm in 2019 with her brother, Fred as part of a rescue program, both having endured years of mistreatment in their previous living situation. At the time they were estimated to be 30 years old. They were brought to MPA as therapeutic animals, here to assist students, many themselves having survived physical or emotional abuse, manage their stress, anxiety and depression. The pair fast became beloved members of the MPA community. Students were put in charge of feeding, grooming and caring for them. In turn, the animals greeted them with friendly brays and nudges, even coming when called by those they were most familiar with. Until MPA, Ethel and Fred didn’t know what it was like to be healthy, safe and loved . . . and many of our students had never experienced being put in charge of someone of something that depends on them. There was no mistaking the effect these animals were having on their caregivers as faculty often noted how they beamed with self pride and compassion.
On October 19 the vet was summoned to check on Ethel’s leg. She had been favoring it for days and was in visible pain. She was quickly diagnosed with a dislocated femur and advanced arthritis, likely an injury she had been suffering from for years and only getting worse. It was decided that the most humane treatment for her would be euthanization. The students were devastated but encouraged to express not suppress their emotions. She was showered with affection, including hugs and brushing. Students oversaw her last moments with Fred, her inseparable companion of over 30 years and then helped load her into the trailer.
Ethel is buried beneath a pine tree by the barn. The students are working on a placard to mark her gravesite and as a symbol of the lasting impression she had on MPA. Fred spent days bellowing for his sister but now finds solace in Sally and Pepper, his favorite goats who have been allowed to share his pen. Like Fred, those students touched by Ethel’s presence will learn to live with their loss and be made stronger by the pride they had in making her life on our tiny farm in Pike, New Hampshire worth remembering.