The Snowball is Rolling


A few members of the Waters Foundation team and over 200 of our closest systems thinking in education friends spent the week of July 11 in Sacramento, California at Camp Snowball. Camp Snowball began six years ago in Tucson, Arizona, as an opportunity for teams to experience systems thinking in education.  Over the course of five action-packed, fun-filled, informative days participants have an opportunity to focus on building their capacity to fuel student success.  Camp Snowball is unique in that it emphasizes bringing multiple stakeholders–students, teachers, school administrators and community leaders–together to address the need for innovation in education.CS2016-Pres

Given Camp Snowball’s emphasis on student success, it is not surprising that students were sought after for their perspectives and leadership in various module sessions, marketplace displays and PechaKuchas.  For example, the student team from Hewlett-Woodmere, shown here, shared in their PechaKucha how systems thinking informs the work of their “Youth Leadership Forum.”


Desiree Chrun, TreCS2016-icebergvor Hicks, Dianne Lam and Michael Savage, recent graduates from Ritenour High School, are interns at Washington University in St. Louis, where they lead group-modeling processes around critical issues, like gun violence.  At Camp Snowball, accompanied by Ritenour teacher Kristi Ponder, they led a module specifically for secondary students entitled, “Take the Lead!  Student Voice and Action.”  For more information on their work with community modeling process, check out their video.

Student hosts from Pleasanton Unified School District, Nicole Zhang and Samantha Corpuz, led each plenary session with knowledge and poise that helped keep all the campers engaged and on the right track throughout the week.

Each day of Camp Snowball offered a provocation to stretch our mental models about what schools can be and how we can actively work to improve them. Tuesday morning we heard from a panel that included superintendents Parvin Ahmadi of Castro Valley Unified School District, Valerie Williams of Albany Unified School District, and Steven Martinez of Twin Rivers School District.  They shared personal stories of their journey to the role of superintendent while expressing their passion and perspective on ensuring equitable opportunities for students and staff within their respective districts. During the final provocation on Thursday morning, a student panel hosted Stacey Tank, Director of Communications for Home Depot.  Tank graciously shared her personal story of handling complexity at work and at home through a healthy mix of commitment, compassion and contentment.  She inspired attendees to “cross their borders,” taking risks, seizing opportunities, co-creating all the while being certain to have “intentional fun.”

Core modules,12-hour learning sessions, which are a key component of the Camp Snowball experience, were replete with opportunities to learn together. A few of these modules with Waters Foundation connections included, “Equity and Privilege:  Overcoming Barriers,” led by Mary Scheetz featured voices from the field provided by Latish Reed and Teaira McMurtry, both from Milwaukee Public Schools.  Campers suffering from initiative overload joined Sheri Marlin to explore how systems thinking can be a red thread knitting together a number of best practices and helping teachers recognize that not everything that is new has to be separate, but rather can be integrated into a coherent whole. “An Introduction to Systems Thinking for Elementary Schools” was facilitated by the very popular Kelly Nichols and Karen Abbott, both Waters Foundation national faculty, who apply systems thinking in their classrooms on a daily basis and are highly skilled at communicating those concepts to other teachers.  Joan Yates took systems educators deeper into their application of the habits and tools of systems CS2016-ModulePresthinking in the module “Next Steps in Systems Thinking:  Becoming a More Skillful Practitioner.”  Last but certainly not least, participants in Mary Quinnan’s module, “Structures for Effective Collaboration,” learned how applying systems thinking tools and habits can improve the quality of collaboration and take decision making to another level.  School-age campers attended Camp Sunshine which was led by, Dana Sorensen and Samantha Sims, two long-time friends of the Waters Foundation.

Tracy Benson, Waters Foundation President, presided over our Project Marketplace display where we shared our recently revised training materials, promoted our new ST Habits app and announced our soon to be published book The Habit-Forming Guide to Becoming a Systems Thinker.  Waters Foundation learning partner sites that also presented at the Project Marketplace included Hewlett-Woodmere, Pleasanton, Twin Rivers, and Winston-Salem

Special thanks to Camp Director LeAnne Grillo for her coordination of the event and to her assistants Elayne Dorsey, Sally Neider and Christina Wagner. For more about Camp Snowball 2016, visit the Facebook page @CampSnowball.


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