We did not meet on Monday as were honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day, so we came back together on Tuesday for the second week of our second cycle of the year.

The day did not start out great as a Learner showed up without having gone through the daily at-home screening checklist before arriving. I asked him as soon as he arrived if he had completed it, since I did not get a text prior to his arrival that he had, and he said he had not. So I took out the checklist and went through it with him, and checked his temperature, while his guardian waited to make sure that he was good to go. I then had a conversation with him about the importance of always completing the checklist before arriving.

The cell seemed small when it was time to start the meeting as Katie was no longer shadowing with us, one Learner was out because of food poisoning, and another Learner was late. One of the Learners volunteered to be the game master, and set the conditions for our meeting, and then followed that up with facilitating the morning meeting. The prompt for the meeting was ‘what did you do this weekend?’ Some of us seemed to have had busy weekends and some had fairly lazy ones. One of the highlights of one Learner’s weekend was stopping by a candy store where he bought some jelly beans that were various levels of spicy, and he said he would like folks to give it a try at some time during the day. After the meeting was over, the Learner who was running late joined us, and the group talked about where we would like to spend our day. It looked like it was going to be another sunny, warm day, and four of us included going to the lake or swimming in our intentions. I proposed that we consider taking a hike before going to the lake and everyone agreed. Finally, I was going to get my hike!

We took a detour so that we stopped by the bathroom before scaling the hill on a fairly steep route. I offered to walk at the rear of the group with anyone who wanted to walk slowly up the hill, and I said that we could take as many breaks as needed. One of the Learners in the group took advantage of that, taking many breaks on the hike up as it was really challenging for her. But she made it, and although she said it was really difficult she seemed pleased to have made it to the top.

Relaxing a the top of the hill: a Learner is working on her comic, a Learner is using the walkie-talkie to speak to another Learner that’s on a hike, a Learner is adding his two cents to be relayed over the walkie-talkie, and a Learner is trying to …

Relaxing a the top of the hill: a Learner is working on her comic, a Learner is using the walkie-talkie to speak to another Learner that’s on a hike, a Learner is adding his two cents to be relayed over the walkie-talkie, and a Learner is trying to pull thorns from a prickly pear out of his finger

At the top we all relaxed on some large rocks. One Learner took out her lunch and then worked on a comic, while other Learners went looking for prickly pear fruit to harvest. Some of the Learners who found prickly pear fruit came back and cut into the fruit to eat it, while also spending time removing the prickles (called glochids) from their fingers. The Learner who brought the spicy jelly beans pulled it out and offered to share them with the group. We developed a protocol for doing so safely by having him be the only one who spun the wheel that determined what bean a person would eat, and I used hand pliers to grab the beans so that we were not all dipping our hands into the same box. The flavors of the beans were Sriracha, jalapeño, cayenne, habanero, and Carolina Reaper. We found that most of the beans were not actually that spicy (compared to actual habanero peppers, for example), but they tasted awful. We did fairly well with the social distancing practices during the jelly bean eating experiment except I had to kindly remind the Learners that if they were disgusted by a bean that they had to walk really far away from the group to spit it out, just as they would if they needed to sneeze.

At noon I began to eat my lunch, as did a Learner who was also doing intermittent fasting. Shortly thereafter the Learners said they were ready to go to the lake, but as I was still eating I told them to go without me. I said anyone who wanted to stick back with me could, but every Learner decided it was time to go. One of the Learners in the group does not move as quickly on hikes as the others, and has some spatial processing differences, so I checked in with her to make sure that she did not want to wait for me, and with the other Learners to make sure that they were going to accommodate her needs. They all said they were good, and they took off, each of them seemingly quite happy to leave me behind. I finished my lunch and had a call with the veterinarian about Cuddle Buddy Ivan and eventually made my way back toward the group.

When I arrived at the lake I asked one Learner when she wanted to have the one-on-one check-in that we did not get in on Friday, and then I checked in on some of the Learners who had positioned themselves on the dock. One Learner was eating a banana, and another Learner, although masked, was about four feet away from the Learner who was eating. I reminded them of the awareness we raised on Friday about not getting too close to each other without masks. I later observed Learners laying down on the dock, while still masked, but with their heads only two to four feet apart.

I reengaged the Learners and asked them if they were doing the full checklist each morning, and all of them said yes, definitely, except for one who said, “checklist?” This led to some expressed shock from some of the others, and I pulled the Learner aside and walked them through the checklist. I explained how vitally important it would be for them to complete the checklist each day before arriving, and how they should not come if they do not complete the checklist. I then made a note to also check in with the Learner’s guardian so that there was no confusion on their end, either.

I do not want to spend my time policing Abrome Learners or their families about safer Covid-19 practices, but at the same time I do not want to allow complacency to set in whereby folks become lax and put others in the community at risk. Instead of bringing Learners together indoors for 6 hours a day where they could breathe recycled air, we took everything outdoors in small operating cells of only four to seven Learner each, this year, in order to make coming together as safe as possible during the pandemic. But our approach to the pandemic works best when everyone is abiding by the practices we agreed to, such as social distancing and daily screenings. Fortunately we are in a community where most people take the pandemic seriously, and none dismiss it as a hoax or “no worse than the flu,” so my focus can be on vigilance instead of having to educate them in order to get them to recognize the risk they can poise to others. Nonetheless, I believe that for Day 23’s morning meeting I will reserve some time to discuss Covid-19 and the latest research on how it spreads.

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A super cute baby snapping turtle

Afterward I checked in with the Learner for the one-on-one check-in and then watched the Learners jumping into the lake. There was a lot of conversation between the Learners about who was going to jump off of where. It was good to see the different Learners setting boundaries for themselves on what they were willing to do without allowing peer pressure to force them to take risks they did not feel comfortable with. Because they were jumping in the water they took off their masks before doing so (it is not a good idea to try to breathe through a wet mask), and I had to remind them to keep their distance from each other when they had their masks off. I had not had to talk about distancing this much since the first week of the year. But they were receptive to the feedback and stepped away from each other, although they also simultaneously told me that they could not physically do so from where they were trying to jump from.

I eventually joined in on the jumping, as I’ve found that jumping from the top of the boat house is quite the thrill. Three of us in total made the leap, while another jumped off of the roof of the deck. Injuries were minimal; I got a splinter and another Learner got a small cut on his foot from jumping off the edge of the roof. The jumping took a short break when one of the Learners found a baby snapping turtle, which was bigger than the prior baby turtles we’ve found. After taking pictures and video of the turtle, and releasing it back into the lake, we got back to jumping into the lake. Then a Learner, who spent much of her day working on a comic that would be her birthday gift to her younger sister, facilitated our afternoon meeting. My take on the day was that it was really fun, there was lots of bonding, some great exercise, and we really need to fight complacency about Covid-19.