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50th Speaker Series: R.T. Rybak

March 22, 2021

By Peter Smerud

Peter Smerud serves as Wolf Ridge's Executive Director since 2011. He has been with Wolf Ridge since 1987, serving 24 years as a Naturalist and in a varied set of positions enabling him to have worked in nearly every aspect of operations. He loves the North Shore for it's unique combination of coastal, alpine-like, and northwoods environments.

What a gift to be able to feature R. T. Rybak last Thursday as part of our 50th Anniversary Speaker Series. In reflecting on all that was discussed, I’m struck by how many of the concepts R. T. raised resonate with how Wolf Ridge strives to deliver outdoor experiences to students of all backgrounds.

Student Voice: As educators who facilitate experiential learning, we always strive to model student-centered design. This involves taking the goals of the class and merging what the student already knows with what more they want to know. R. T.’s focus on honoring the Student Voice is critical to fostering a student-centered learning environment.

Relevance: R.T. spoke of Relevance as paramount to student-centered learning. Along with many learning institutions, Wolf Ridge works to ensure that our content is relevant to diverse groups, fosters feelings of individual relevance and that students continue to see staff and teachers who look like them. (We are making progress!)

Measurable Outcomes: R.T. and Megan have supported, and we continue to work with high schools and districts around the state to provide opportunities for credit recovery essential to raising graduation rates. R.T. hit directly on a critical need to raise student achievement with experiences where learning can come in multiple forms to create credit achievement, during the summer or other unconventional times. We need to look at the measurement of learning in new and more diverse ways. This is a role Wolf Ridge can and will be more effective at providing.

Social and Emotional Development: The focus and value R.T. puts on Social and Emotional Development as part of learning along with a strong student voice resonated well with us at Wolf Ridge. We’ve had it reinforced to us for years, from thousands of teachers, that when one combines the emotions of leaving home, doing a ropes course, and living with peers for a week, the learning environment becomes richer because of social and emotional interactions. These interactions help the student develop a more holistic perspective on subjects, including how the subjects connect to them and others in their community. We hear the same from students—that the whole Wolf Ridge experience “Makes it real.”

And finally…

Commitment to Learning / Positive Identity: I loved hearing how we need to think more about the intersection of a student’s Commitment to Learning and their Positive Identity—both core parts of Social and Emotional Learning. When we can take students who want to learn and create environments where their identity is positively reinforced, through their voice, their feeling of relevance, their high levels of engagement all because the teacher is “making it real” is when we all succeed…. the student, the teacher, and our entire community as we lift up an entire generation to greater levels of knowledge and inspiration. Wolf Ridge’s mission is to create a citizenry that cares and wants to take action for the environment. It all starts with following the examples described by R.T. We can and will continue to serve that role in Minnesota. We will need the help of you all, organizations like The Minneapolis Foundation, and so many other partners, but together we can create the future we all want to see.

It was clear from the questions and discussion that our supporters share our passion for bringing this vision to life. Thanks to everyone who was able to attend and for your thoughtful participation. And a heartfelt thanks to R.T. and Megan for their past and continuing support of Wolf Ridge.