You might not remember him, but a boy named Avi Taylor once attended Wilson. He hasn’t been in the building since December of 2014 and doesn’t exist in the DCPS system any more, but he’s coming back for second semester!
Taylor left Wilson after the first semester of his junior year to go to Conserve School, a semester school in Wisconsin that focuses on environmental stewardship. He was one of 60 sophomores and juniors there from all across the country.
The system was a welcome contrast to the teaching style at Wilson, which he feels is rigid and doesn’t cater as well to his personal learning style. “Education is so focused on just sitting in a classroom and listening and that works for some people but it doesn’t apply to everyone,” Taylor says. He realized he learns best with the hands-on experiential learning that Conserve specializes in. “When we learned about Louis and Clark, we dug out canoes and went on the river and read about Louis and Clark while on canoes,” he recalls with a smile, strumming the ukulele that rests on his knee
He got along well with everyone at Conserve, which made spending all day with the same people easy and enjoyable. This was different from his experience going to DC public schools. “You can easily be so isolated at public school, like some people who don’t fit into groups — they don’t have anyone that works for them. At Conserve since we all kind of shared a passion for the outdoors, we all had people that we worked well with,” he says.
Taylor didn’t leave because he was unhappy in DC. However, once he spent time away from home, he realized how much he needed his semester schools to set him apart. “In some ways I feel like before I went to Conserve I wasn’t a person. I didn’t feel like I had an identity. I felt kind of standardized and I just didn’t know who really I was,” he says.
After spending his summer in DC with an excursion to Amsterdam and Copenhagen, Taylor was gone again by late August, on his way to Nevada City, California. He attended a second semester school called Woolman with 13 other students. Like Conserve, the student body was from all over the United States, but the small size came as a shock. “It may not seem like that big a difference, but it’s huge,” Taylor says of the size gap. The core classes were Peace Studies, Environmental Science and Global Thinking. Students also took the elective classes Farm to Table, Nonviolent Communication, and Ceramics.
Since Woolman was on a farm, Taylor learned very different skills than those offered at Wilson. “We learned how to farm and we did all the cooking and all the cleaning and we were a big part of like the management of the school,” he explains. Some teenagers consider tasks like cooking and cleaning to be unenjoyable chores, but it made Taylor feel more independent. “It was very gratifying being trusted in that way,” he says.
Because of its small size, there was often conflict and drama at Woolman. “It definitely wasn’t easy and it wasn’t always fun,” he recalls. But looking back, Taylor sees the value in being forced to interact with people he wouldn’t necessarily choose as friends. “You’re not always gonna choose who your boss is and people you have to interact with,” he says.
Another discovery Taylor made was the importance of self awareness and emotions. Unlike at Conserve, Taylor did feel homesick at Woolman. And he decided that it wasn’t a bad thing. “I always felt like things were not going well if you were sad or mad but, like, that’s not a bad thing. It’s healthy to have a wide healthy range of emotions,” he says.
Now that he’s back, Taylor is adjusting to his old life. He returned to DC with some down time before Wilson’s second semester began. “I felt uncomfortable doing nothing because I was so used to moving and doing stuff,” he says.
In the future, Taylor wants to continue exploring politics and environmental science, two primary academic focuses at Conserve and Woolman. On top of his academic pursuits, Taylor keeps in touch with the friends he made at Conserve and Woolman, which he sees as life-long friendships.
From hanging with the wild turkeys at Woolman to building canoes at Conserve, Taylor has had quite the year. So Wilson students, if you see a wide-eyed dude during transition time, lend him a hand and point him in the right direction. Because let’s face it, there’s no outdoor experience as wild as navigating Wilson’s halls between classes.