"Tribes" class morphs to "Cultivating Curiosity"



When Rachel Newcombe took over the high school psychology class,"Tribalism to Technology," she was encouraged by its former teacher Eden Bailey, to make it her own.

Newcombe developed the class under a new title, “Cultivating curiosity," and presented ideas of critical thinking to her students. Her intent was to enable them to be "co-creative, to question everything; not be passive learners."

Newcombe has a private practice in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis in Eastsound, and is also a certified teacher.

The class was presented this semester through funding by the Orcas Island Prevention Partnership (OIPP). Moriah Armstrong, OIPP director, said the class was designed to promote critical thinking skills for students regarding a variety of personal, social and psychological issues relevant to adolescents, and that it has a "Breakfast Club" quality. Newcombe said, "It was so surprising to me when they described the class as a family."

The main requirement of the class is confidentiality. "It's the one essential of the class for it to work and they adhered to that so well," said Newcombe. She added that when the students made their presentation to their parents and to high school principal Barbara Kline they made sure the adults understood the confidentiality requirement.

This past semester's class was composed mainly of sophomores, although there were three seniors and one junior taking part. Under Newcombe's guidance the class explored issues such as personality, defense mechanisms, the difference between gender and sexuality, healthy relationships, life stages, and identifying high-risk and destructive behavior associated with drug and alcohol use. Newcombe presented topics such as "What is psychology?" "Thought vs. Feeling" and "The Differences between Therapists." She also addressed Freud's ideas of unconscious and conscious behavior, dreams, and free association. Several guest speakers also made presentations to the class. But class time was flexible, as Newcombe explained that she may have an agenda for class "and then something happens that allows them to relect on the issues they’re dealing with."

"Cultivating curiosity" was not just the name of the class. It was the ongoing motivation as the students kept journals, discussed issues and viewed films such as "Running on Empty," "Ma Vie en Rose," "Freaks and Geeks" and "Something's Got to Give."

Newcombe arranged one day when the students dressed "out of character" as a way of examining how others' opinion influences personal behavior.

On Jan. 24, in lieu of a final exam, the class had an "Unprotected Discussion," a dialogue between the teens and their parents about sexuality and identity. "Why is talking about sex embarrassing for teens and parents?" The group found that some themes are common among families, as well as among the kids.

Newcombe, a New York City native, has now relocated to Orcas Island and her daughter Addie is in sixth grade at Orcas Elementary school. She was open about sharing her own personal experiences in talking with her students, and feels that while she demonstrated "my love of being part of the exploring process; I feel I learned as much as them."

Armstrong has said that the OIPP hopes to fund the class next year for the full year.

Newcombe commented, "Everybody talks for adolescents," and her observation is echoed in the opinion of a previous student who said, "I love this class because it is real. We don't skirt around the things other people don't want to mention. We dive into the big important things."

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