Q: What is Finding the Good?

A: Finding the Good is a high school and gap year traveling semester program based on researching, studying and documenting working models of sustainability in the areas of shelter, transportation, energy, food, culture, and environmental conservation. Students and faculty travel to communities throughout California in a bio-diesel fueled mobile media center exploring, discovering, researching and documenting innovations in sustainability. They learn to create compelling documentary films, podcasts, radio programs and stage presentations to educate others on the solutions we need to live on the earth sustainably. Finding the Good is a 16-week, full immersion program.

The Finding the Good semester is a program of Synergia Learning Ventures, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization based out of Nevada City, California.

Q: Finding the Good is open to high school juniors and seniors as well as gap year students. Will students who are still in high school earn credits toward graduation?

A: Yes. Finding the Good will work with your sending school so that the work that you do and the credits you earn during our semester are transferred toward your school’s graduation requirements. We do absolutely everything that we can to ensure that this is a smooth process.

Credit can also be awarded through our partner school Bitney College Preparatory High School.

Finding the Good issues credits in Science, Social Studies, English, Visual Arts (art, filmmaking), Journalism, Applied Math, and Physical Education. We issue Spanish credit during the spring semester for our work in Baja California, Mexico. The curriculum for Finding the Good is rigorous, project-based, and hands-on. Please see the Course Descriptions and Credit Explanation documents for more information.

Finding the Good will issue formal transcripts and narrative evaluations. We work with each student to develop a top-notch portfolio.

Q: Some semester programs only allow students to participate once. Can students attend more than one Finding the Good semester?

A: Absolutely. We invite all interested students who are well-matched with the program to participate in consecutive semesters with Finding the Good. It can be a great progression from one semester to the next, particularly since the spring semester adds an international component to the program. There is a huge amount to be learned in each primary semester location and students will also be allowed to take on more leadership roles among their peers in a second semester.

Q: Where do students live at Finding the Good?

A: At the Finding the Good home base, students sleep in cabins built from local and sustainable materials such as lumber that is harvested and milled on-site, earth plaster, and papercrete made from recycled paper. During the Fall Founding Semester, students and staff will camp on site primarily while we work to complete the construction of these cabins as part of our course of study. A rustic lodge built from locally harvested and reclaimed materials serves as our classroom and dining hall.

While traveling, living arrangements will vary. Our 26-foot self- contained mobile media center and classroom will accompany us on many of our outings. Host sites may include organic farms, an environmental education center, or a public campground. Each host site will provide varying amenities and offer a range of educational or documentation opportunities.

Q: How many students participate in the Finding the Good semester program? What are they like?

A: There will generally be 10 students maximum for each of the Finding the Good semesters. For the founding semesters (Fall 2009 and Spring 2010), you can expect approximately 5 students and 5 interns. This arrangement will ensure that we have a strong, supportive, and diverse community in our first semesters and will provide a mentor-rich setting for students to learn in.

The students who join us for the Finding the Good semester program typically exhibit some similar qualities: mature; eager to learn and to gain experience in real world situations; respectful; hard-working; fun-loving; and open-minded. We welcome students from all walks of life and believe that a diverse student and staff population is beneficial to enriching our lifelong education.

Q: What are meals like and what do we eat?

A: Food is one of our areas of study: sustainable agriculture, diet, and health – both personal and planetary. We grow some of our food on-site and nearly all of the food we eat is organic. Students, interns, and staff cook together and share community meals. The diet is mostly, but not strictly, vegetarian. Students learn about nutrition and they actively participate in preparing highly nutritious, delicious meals. At Finding the Good, food is celebrated as an integral part of the culture and curriculum.

Q: Are there any chances to go home during the semester?

A: Yes, there will be a one-week break in the middle of each semester when Finding the Good is not in session. Students will either go home for these breaks or arrange to stay with another student’s family. Thanksgiving is observed during the fall semester and students may either travel home to be with family or stay on to celebrate with the Finding the Good staff. Please see the Basic Itinerary for more details about specific days off during each semester.

For once-in-a-lifetime events, students may be permitted to miss one weekend during the semester. There will also be parents’ weekends at the Finding the Good base camp throughout the semester.

Q: How is non-class and leisure time addressed?

A: While the semester is packed full with travel, research and study, building, and filming, you will have ample time to relax around a campfire at base camp or to pack a picnic and take a dip in the nearby Yuba River. Finding the Good supports total health, which necessarily includes some leisure time and time alone.

Happily, the way in which we structure our education means that work and play are often indistinguishable from each other. We practice living what we learn and learning what we live daily. At Finding the Good, we truly believe that every moment is a potential learning moment, including when you’re having fun. The semester is a real mix of time spent in busy urban environments and quiets periods in the woods at base camp.

Q: Are Finding the Good students allowed to drive during the semester?

A: Students are not allowed to bring private vehicles to the Finding the Good semester due to concerns regarding health and safety. Travel throughout the semester as a group will typically be in one of our large vans that require commercially-licensed drivers. Licensed and insured intern staff may occasionally drive smaller groups of students into town or to the river nearby.

Transportation into town or to specific events of interest to the group is available and provided by the Finding the Good staff.

Q: How much time do we spend on the road traveling versus working from base camp?

A: The exact ratio of travel to base camp time is not fixed. Though Finding the Good has pre-planned a number of day trips, conferences, meetings, and investigative excursions, our time on the road varies with the relevant opportunities for learning each semester. Please read our Semester Profile and/or the Basic Itinerary for a better idea of how we divide time on the road with time at base camp.

Q: How are medical issues handled throughout the semester?

A: The Finding the Good directors are both trained and certified Wilderness First Responders. This training is on the same level as what firefighters and ambulance drivers receive, with the addition of wilderness-specific protocols. Therefore, we are equipped to deal with a wide range of minor injuries, illnesses, and other situations requiring medical attention including long-term patient care for times when more definitive care may be more than an hour away. A full service clinic is only 4 miles from our base camp. A physician advisor is also a part of the permanent Finding the Good team.

Q: Where do we travel during the semester?

A: As our name implies, we will be traveling to sites where “good” things are happening. Your experience with Finding the Good is based upon face-to-face, hands-on education that we receive by interacting with various individuals and organizations within our community. For the fall semester, our community will be the area in and around Nevada City, CA as well as Central and Northern California as a whole. This goes for the spring semester as well, however spring semester will include a 4-week stint in Baja California, Mexico, which we’ll adopt as our temporary community.

During either semester, you will likely find yourself traveling to organic farms, cultural events, state government buildings, vast solar arrays, the ocean, the local radio station, non profit organizations’ headquarters, endangered ecosystems, and more.

Q: How would you describe the Finding the Good staff?

A: Tom and Debra Weistar are the directors of the Finding the Good semester program. The Weistars have been leading transformative experiential education programs for over 20 years and have co-founded two non-profit organizations and two schools in that time.

Our interns are typically in college or have recently graduated from college when they join the Finding the Good staff team. All have extensive experience in leadership roles and in working with youth in a variety of settings. Our interns are bright, engaged, passionate about sustainability and education, and provide wonderful mentorship for the Finding the Good students throughout the semester.

The other Finding the Good teachers are carefully selected members of our community (see above for community explanation) who have valuable skills, ideas, and insights for students. Students will make frequent trips to visit with these often unsung community heroes and learn what it means to contribute positively and intelligently to the people you live among every day.

Q: Can we bring cell phones or other personal electronic items like iPods, CD players, or Palm pilots to the Finding the Good program?

A: There is a dedicated land phone line, as well as email access, for students to use at the Finding the Good base camp. Cell phones rarely work at base camp due to poor cell service. One of the values that we stress during the semester is reevaluating your relationship with technology and living more simply. While we happily acknowledge the usefulness of these tools for communication, we try to limit our dependence upon them.

Personal electronic devices like cell phones, iPods and CD players are allowed, however using them in a manner that is disruptive or disrespectful to the Finding the Good community is not.