April 7th was day 118 of our pandacademic year. On this day we would have four Learners, one prospective Learner, and two Facilitators present. For the morning meeting I was the game master, and I said that we respond to prompts by the second letter of our first name. Then the Learners took over figuring out the order.

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Facilitator Ariel was leading the morning meeting and he started by reminding everyone that they had agreed to focus on houselessness that day. One of the Learners said that she wanted to find ways to have conversations with some houseless folks, which was an ongoing goal of hers but that she was not feeling confident about engaging in. In response to the prompts, we each shared how we were feeling, we shared something that we do with our family that we wish we could share with our friends, and then we discussed the types of activities we could engage in to positively impact the lives of houseless folks? What we came up with was passing out snacks and water; helping procure tents, food, and clothing; giving the houseless money; organizing a tent drive; giving folks bottles of waters and shoes; helping folks feel seen, greeting them, and smiling at them with our eyes; and “jump in Antonio’s car and drive near my house where we can give them money.”

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Once we were finished with the meeting the Learner who wanted to talk to some of the houseless folks walked toward a spot where a couple of tents were set up. She was nervous, but after talking to me and Facilitator Ariel she was ready to give it her best shot. But the delay led to the Learners turning in toward each other and away from discomfort. It was then that I noticed that some of the Learners were not exactly welcoming in the shadowing prospective Learner. I took a picture of how their body positioning seemed exclusionary, and then invited the Learner who was most obviously walling off the shadower over for a conversation. I raised what I had observed, and produced the photo when the Learner expressed disbelief that he could be doing that with his body. We then spoke briefly about how it may feel to be excluded, and then I stepped back and let the Learner go back and join the others, who by that time had welcomed the shadower into the circle.


Everyone then walked toward the bridge where the tents were. There were several folks at the encampment, but the Learner focused her energy on one woman who was receptive to the conversation. Eventually Facilitator Ariel and a young Learner joined in on the conversation, while most of the other Learners stood back and stared. The Learner in charge asked the woman what they could use, and the woman gave her a list of some food items and requested a calendar, as well.

After the conversation I pulled in the Learners who did not engage with anyone and told them how awkward it seemed to just stand around and watch, and about my concern that folks are seen as a project to be worked on or an exhibit to stare at. We talked about the problem of poverty porn where people (usually Westerners) go into poverty-stricken areas (such as slums) to just stare at people who are suffering without material resources. The Learners were getting more feedback this week about interacting with the world than many of them had had in quite some time.

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The exchange with the houseless folks took up a lot of our early morning energy, having really stretched many of the Learners out of their comfort zone, and they were ready to move on. It seemed like an eternity for us to eventually move toward Pease Park, where we had hoped to run into more houseless folks. Along the way, there were some more challenging conversations about honoring safety boundaries, and not sitting on macadam in the middle of a hot, sunny day.

We broke up into two groups, Facilitator Ariel and a young Learner who was struggling, and me with all the other Learners. We had the same destination, but chose not to take the same path. I let the adolescent Learners lead the way, and it was the shadowing prospective Learner who figured out which direction to walk in. When we got to the park we were disappointed to find it fenced off, and I asked aloud if they thought the entire park was closed, or just that section. Wanting to avoid asking questions of strangers, the Learners decided that they would just walk around the edge of the fencing until they could enter the park. Unfortunately, that took them up a hill and folks were getting pretty tired. At some point there was an option to walk on a trail into the park after the fencing ended, and the Learners turned to me to ask if they should walk in at that point. I reminded them that they were in charge, and I was following their lead. They chose not to go in, which was unfortunate because it was a much softer walk, in the shade, and led right into the park.


When we finally found another way in all the Learners but the shadower charged down an animal trail. I told the shadower that I planned to just walk 20 meters further and turn into a wide open portion of the park. Once we got into the park we waited for the other Learners to emerge from the brush. We then found a picnic table and settled in waiting for Facilitator Ariel and the other Learner to show. We were all quite impressed with the park (I was the only one who had been at the park before) and everyone was talking about how much they would love to come back sometime. The only question was how far of a walk it was! (more on this later)


It took Facilitator Ariel and the other Learner quite some time to get the park, partly because of the struggles the Learner was dealing with, and partly because they came across a great climbing tree along their way. They also found an excellent water crossing that allowed them to easily enter the park without having to walk all the way to 24th Street.

Once they arrived, Facilitator Ariel and I broke off to talk about several issues, while all the Learners talked, and then found their way to another large tree to climb. It was such a great climbing tree that we decided to take a group picture of us on it or hanging off of it.

Eventually I offered to play Murder of Crows with everyone, and they debated whether or not they wished to play. I told them that we needed six people to play, and that if they wanted to play they needed to settle in so we could play. They were not eager to play, so I told them that we could try again later in the week if they like, and I put the game away. But then, after I put the game away, about ten minutes later, they came back and said that they were ready to play. I said that I had just put the game away and was no longer interested in playing, and was content to just talk with Facilitator Ariel at that point.

The Learners found plenty of other ways to entertain themselves until 3:00 p.m. when they asked if we should walk back. In spite of walking well over 2.5 miles to get to the park, we were actually just a stone’s throw away from our starting point. We just happened to walk in the opposite direction of the park a good distance until we started walking to the park. Facilitator Ariel and I said we were ready to head back if they liked, although it seemed a bit early. They then began to head out, following the lead of one of the older Learners. As they moved out, the youngest Learner cried out that they were going in the wrong direction. Each wanted to go back the way they came, and neither trusted that the path that the other group came on would get them back quickly. Facilitator Ariel and I asked each how they knew their way was the shortest. Eventually everyone agreed that the younger Learner probably knew the shortest route back (and they were right).

We returned to the drop-off point after walking 3.4 miles. We reflected on our day and we all agreed that we appreciated the experience of going to a new park. To end the day we talked about what we would do the next day, to include bringing the houseless folks some of the stuff that they requested. Different folks each committed to bringing bread, cheese, granola bars, water, and a calendar. It was a long day with a good amount of frustration, challenging conversations, and lessons learned. What I would call a good day.

They had a very different, much more relaxing and refreshing experience at the other cell: