Coming full circle: Compassionate learning model applied to week long Climate Change Agents camp |

Coming full circle: Compassionate learning model applied to week long Climate Change Agents camp

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

There are a number of summer camps in the forest beyond North Bloomfield Road.

But one particularly – a log cabin perched on elevated ground along Lake Vera Purdon Road – stands out.

Premised on Full-Circle Learning’s philosophy of empathy and interconnection, the Climate Change Agents Camp has been ongoing for the last five years in Nevada County, promoting action, community involvement and taking different perspectives on one of our time’s most challenging problems.

Thursday, students who introduced themselves as members of the human family sat outside their log cabin, negotiating the differing perspectives of conservationists and forest managers. A “conflict resolution bridge” sat nearby, used to help students understand their opposing sides – whether for an imagined activity or in real life. No one could be found with a cell phone in hand.

“They’re all change agents,” said Teresa Langness, the board president of Full-Circle Learning and a volunteer teacher at the camp. “That’s the broader identity we want them to have.”

County students are recommended by their teachers to attend the camp based on their character, motivation and commitment to community service. This year, 14 students from fifth to 10th grade were invited to join, their experiences paid for by donations. While trying to cultivate loving kindness, instructors focused on the topic of forest management, and the central question was how to incorporate their skill into community work.

During the week-long camp, students participated in a range of activities, and learned from a myriad of perspectives. Thursday, they met with a conservationist in order to understand proscribed burns after delving into the viewpoints of engineers, policy makers and city planners.


The camp was meant to embody the learning model’s philosophy: understand different, sometimes opposing, perspectives with compassion to resolve tension, expand empathy and change the world.

Learning should be a project in scaffolding, said Langness, where one exercise becomes a foundation, and topics bleed into one another, thereby allowing students to infinitely expand opportunities to understand the world.

Lian Trowbridge, a rising 10th grader at Ghidotti Early College High School, typified this point when she explained how the camp opened her mind to complexity and intersectionality.

“You can’t just plant trees or burn trees to solve climate change,” she said.

Teacher volunteer Katie Smith has been helping lead the camp for the last five years. When she first came across the learning style in college, she was taken by the compassion embedded in its complexity.

“I was always so motivated for (students) to think with their hearts,” she said.

Despite much excitement, there was some skepticism among students of the camp’s practical optimism.

After working on an exercise in easing tension, one rising fifth grader at the Nevada City School of The Arts, Paxx Weidert, expressed doubt of the conflict resolution bridge’s effectiveness.

“Oh,” he said to a volunteer teacher, “this will never work in the real world.”

The student next to him pointed out, however, that he had just done an activity on the bridge with Weidert, and it resolved their differences. When returning to the question of real-world application, Weidert had this to say.

“Well, maybe it could work after a couple of weeks.”

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.