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Yosemite School Goes to Scotland

Yosemite Students receiving John Muir Discovery Award in Dunbar

During the 1998-99 school year, the 6th-8th graders of Yosemite Valley School studied the life of John Muir. This study was the impetus for taking a field trip to Dunbar, Scotland to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Muir's emigration to the U.S.

Catherine Soria, the lead teacher for the project, informs us, "Fundraising efforts for the trip to Scotland began early in the school year with the class preparing and selling hot lunches to the entire student body at our school. Some of the fundraising efforts included writing letters requesting donations to old time Yosemite people, having bake sales in front of the Ansel Adams gallery, raffling a quilt and a Keith Walklet photograph, and having Lee Stetson donate a performance of the Adventures of John Muir."

But by far the most successful venture was the Celebrity Auction. Soria explains, "The students wrote to celebrities to ask for donation of memorabilia which were then auctioned at a large community event. $12,000 was raised in one evening in our little community!" This fundraising allowed the group of students to take the trip.

Once in Dunbar the students were presented with the Discovery John Muir Award.

The students earned the John Muir Award by creating Docent Tours for visiting school groups, based on MuirĀ¹s life in Yosemite. The tours were called "Scootchers, John Muir in Yosemite" and were designed to teach about the legacy of Muir in Yosemite National Park and his influence on conservation efforts around the world. While in Dunbar, the students undertook additional conservation work to give them an added sense of helping world wide.

Students working on removing fencing

The conservation picture shows Yosemite Valley School students working on disassembling some unnecessary path fencing in John Muir County Park. In Scotland up until now parks are places where people may go to camp and are usually associated with a theme, perhaps even amusement rides. The caretakers of John Muir County Park have visitors arriving and asking where the "attractions" are! A great deal of education has been undertaken to let the visitors know that the park is natural land set aside to enjoy as is. The fenced paths added to the sense that the visitor was being led around the park and the rangers want people to feel more like they are wandering in nature.

Soria reports, "Our group had a special trip on the Rescue boats staffed by Dunbar volunteers. Two boats went out into what one of our hosts, Graham White, called a haar." [A haar is a freezing fog with the implication that the sea is churning and maybe even a storm on the rise.]

Dunbar Lifeboat in Dunbar Harbor

"All the passengers on one boat ended up hanging off the end where they saw their lunches for the second time.

"The boys on the other boat had a great time watching this from across the waves. The news was radioed back to Dunbar so that the townsfolk watched the sorry crew stagger off the boat with amusement . The next day odd members of the group were met with the teasing question, "How was the boat ride?" followed by gleeful laughter. So much for the dour Scots!"

In Edinburgh, the students were greeted formally by the representative of the provost, the Roseburn School students sang a few folk songs, and the students met the families of their homestay hosts.

Students in Edinburgh

Outside they posed for pictures in this grand entry way of the Edinburgh City Chambers from the 1600's.

As part of the ceremony, Yosemite Valley Students presented the people of Dunbar with mementos to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Muir's emigration to the US. The items were presented to the people of Dunbar to be displayed in the Muir House, and were provided by the Yosemite Valley School, President Clinton, the Secretary of the Interior, the California Senators, the Superintendent of Yosemite National Park, the City of Martinez, the Counties of Mariposa and Merced. These items had been solicited on behalf of the Yosemite Valley School Students who asked if they could represent the various donors on this anniversary occasion.

The hand signed note from President Clinton indicated his support of international connections based on celebrating conservation efforts. Senator Diane Fienstien sent an original color pencil drawing of a flowering plant. The National Park Service had archival prints from the collection of Carleton E. Watkins printed and matted for presentation. The city of Martinez sent brochures from the John Muir Historical Site and city pins. Representative Radanovich from Mariposa sent a Congressional pen. Other items taken as gifts to the schools included Yosemite Valley School T-shirts, our publication, "Yosemite Kids Guide," and ranger patches. This list represents only some of the items that were collected by the students as gifts for their new Scotland friends!.

In return, the students were presented with the Discovery Level of the John Muir Award through the auspices of Scotland's John Muir Trust.

Ms. Soria summarizes the trip as a most rewarding experience:

Yosemite School Students inside Edinburgh City Hall

"There were so many parts of the trip that created enduring bonds between the adults and students and the people of Dunbar. Every member of the group had a homestay. One host drove her American guest to Edinburgh so she could research her Scottish origins.

"We had all become familiar with the crisis in Bosnia as we would be so much closer to the conflict once we were in Scotland. And as we were there, about 90 refugees were expected and one of our hosts had to forgo his meetings with our group to attend to their needs.

"The Yosemite students were exposed to life outside our beautiful but small valley.

"The measure of the emotional connection that was made came in the leaving of Scotland. On the night we were to begin the last section of our trip, three days in London, we were piped off at the Edinburgh train station to the tune of "Flower of Scotland." The girls cried for a full 30 minutes and the boys were not so dried eyed themselves. As Graham White, put it, "There was nae a dry eye in the huse."

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