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SEP. 14, 2017

Fear Not the “L-word”

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As any Outdoor Academy alum will attest, OA students practice a sometimes-dizzying profusion of customs and traditions.  Among the most time-honored of these is the ceremonial passing of the mantle of leadership from one student to another. Every evening from Opening Day to Final Circle, from 1995 to yesterday, the leader for that day announces her or his successor.

Yet despite these deep roots, our school has been uneasy with the idea that the OA is a school of leadership.  This apprehension is warranted.  Leadership, as it is too often practiced and taught in the Western intellectual tradition, is understood as the exercise of power over others practiced by Napoleons on their white stallions or corporate leaders engineering hostile takeovers.

In response to this conventional understanding of leadership, OA’s founding generation chose to adopt an unconventional title for its student leaders.  Rather than selecting a “Leader of the Day,” we designate an “Adasahede,” a Cherokee word that translates roughly as “guide.”  Serving as Adasahede is not a celebration of ego.   Leadership as practiced at the OA is a selfless act of community service.

The impulse that prompted the choice of “Adasahede” over “Leader of the Day” also prompted some concern among our faculty over our decision last year to introduce a Leadership and Ethics Seminar to the OA curriculum.  Indeed, one faculty member asked, “what if our students don’t want to be leaders?”

My response to this excellent question was that the OA’s Leadership and Ethics Seminar, piloted during Semester 43 and instituted last semester, embraces a nuanced view that understands leadership as an indispensable element of community life.  Rejecting leadership, according to this understanding, is indistinguishable from rejecting community…not an option at the OA.

Drawing primarily on Robert Greenleaf’s conceptualization of the ancient idea of “servant leadership” (see Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, 2002), on curricula developed by NOLS and Outward Bound, and on two decades of experience teaching and learning leadership here at the OA, our seminar examines four leadership roles, each of which is essential for building and maintaining a flourishing community.  We introduce our students to the leadership skills that make an effective “designated leader” (Adasahede, in OA parlance).  Our students also learn and practice the skills associated with effective “active followership,” “peer leadership,” and “self-leadership” (see John Gookin & Shari Leach, NOLS Leadership Educator Notebook, 2004).  Significantly, our approach to leadership insists that none of these roles is more important than any of the others for community health.  Finally, through classroom meetings and practicing leadership in our “lab” (community living on campus and in the field), our students begin their inquiry into which leadership roles feel most natural to them.

I have characterized our Leadership and Ethics Seminar as “new.”  In some ways, this is a fair characterization.  We have introduced new classes into our Community Living and Outdoor Education curricula.  Mostly, however, our seminar would be recognizable to every OA grad from Semester 1 forward.  This is because, whether we embrace the “L-word” or not, the OA is, and has always been, a premier school of leadership.

Roger Herbert, Outdoor Academy Director

MAR. 17, 2017

Back to the Woods

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Spring break at The Outdoor Academy is always a blessing and a curse. It is nice to relax, catch up on sleep, and all of the other little things that you put off; but it is also hard to be away from our amazing community. I asked one of our students, Leah, to share some of her thoughts about spring break:

“Transitioning back into OA after spring break can be difficult for some and easy for others. From my perspective, coming back was one of the easiest things I’ve done. I was excited to see all of my friends and the faculty! We are such a close knit community that it was impossible not to miss everyone while I was away. Some things I look forward to in these last two months are mastering new skills I am learning, like stain glass, and creating deeper relationships with everyone. I learned how to live in a community and work with my peers. I have developed more confidence because of how accepting everyone is. That is what made the transitions easy for me. As for our semester, we all accept and love each other. We sometimes fight like siblings, but we can never really stay mad at each other. We have all grown in our own ways and as a group. This is home for four months because that’s what we make it, home.”

By the calendar we may only be halfway through the semester, but in my mind we are closer to two-thirds done. This is due to the amount of outdoor programming about to happen. I know the next months will fly by as we get out on the rivers, rocks, and trials. We are all ready to get out into the woods, work together, and breathe in spring. Bring it on!

Brian Quarrier, Arts, Environmental Seminar, Wilderness Leader

MAR. 8, 2017

The Trustees of Eagle’s Nest

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Eagle’s Nest is special in so many ways, but one that is very meaningful to me is that it is chartered as an educational non-profit organization.   Most independent schools are non-profits but for an independent summer camp it is not nearly as common and certainly was unusual in 1950 when our charter was granted.

Alyssa Merwin and Rebecca Blecke Hilinski: Former Trustees, OA alumni

Alyssa Merwin and Rebecca Blecke Hilinski: Former Trustees, OA alumni

What this means for us in the big picture is that we are not owned by any one individual but rather have a board of trustees who holds our mission in trust and who guide us in long range planning, financial decision making, best practices in education, human resources and so much more.  The Eagle’s Nest Board of Trustees is comprised of 25 of some of the most committed folks I know.  All have some connection to Eagle’s Nest, whether their child or grandchild attended Camp or OA, or they themselves are an alumnus of one or all of our programs.   Educators, attorneys, business people, artists, accountants, environmentalists, realtors, health professionals and community volunteers are actively serving on our board.  We strive to keep our board well rounded, representing all walks of life, multiple generations and all facets of our community.

Currently we are specifically seeking OA alumni to carry that voice in this group.  If you are interested let me know by sending an e-mail to me at noni@enf.orgI would love to talk to you about what it means to “hold Eagle’s Nest in trust”.

Noni Waite-Kucera, Executive Director 

FEB. 24, 2017

To Walk with Intention and Awareness: A Glimpse of a Weekend at Buffalo Cove

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“…. At one period of the earth’s history there was a kind of ‘earthly paradise,’ in the sense that there was a perfectly harmonious and perfectly natural life: the manifestation of Mind was in accord – was still in complete accord – and in total harmony with the ascending march of Nature, without perversion or deformation. This was the first stage of Mind’s manifestation in material forms.” (The Mother’s “Agenda”, Vol 2)

This past weekend, Outdoor Academy Semester 44 students had the privilege of experiencing the power of connectedness to the Earth, and learn a lot about themselves as well, during their recent trip to Buffalo Cove Outdoor Education Center, outside of Boone, North Carolina.

Nathan Rourke, director of Buffalo Cove, has deep roots within Eagle’s Nest Foundation dating back to developing the Paleo Man adventures for summer camp and being on faculty during the initial years of OA and the Birch Tree program.  His daughter, Maddie, is a current student at OA and they have practiced and refined their skills of living sustainably and harmoniously with the Earth, dating back to Nathan’s teenage years.

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OA and Buffalo Cove have forged this partnership throughout the years, instilling virtues and values within each organization with a three-day trip for each semester.  In exchange for his staff teaching earth skills lessons (stalking, bowl burning, fire by friction, shelter-building, etc.), OA students practice their work ethic principle through work crews, building trails, setting beams for structures, lopping, and helping in permaculture gardens.

Upon their return, students write reflection papers for Outdoor Education class.  Here are a few excerpts:

“Nathan does a great job of giving an explanation of WHY we are doing every work crew, so it feels more meaningful and powerful.”

“It felt good to dance around the fire on Saturday evening, not bound by judgement, and it allowed our community to begin the process of breaking down our walls to allow us to flourish.”

“Awareness was a constant theme of the weekend.  Awareness of yourself, your mind, the full moon, the cool breeze in the valley and others, is such a powerful piece.  The world is much larger than ourselves, and yet we get bound to this at times.”

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Each semester I reach out to Nathan and his wonderful staff before each trip to Buffalo Cove, and speak to the community needs of each OA semester and what I hope for them to come away with.  He does an amazing job of framing each activity.  His program intentional and grounded, and students always come away with a powerful transformative experience.  Whether it be howling at the moon, drumming around a fire, dressing a rabbit, learning how animals stalk prey, or cooking over an open fire, Buffalo Cove is always exactly what each semester needs at exactly the right time.

Lucas Newton, Outdoor Education Manager

FEB. 8, 2017

Conflict Resolution 101

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What do you do when you have a disagreement with someone? What if that person was in many of your classes at school, did chores with you, and slept in the bunk next to yours? Learning how to resolve interpersonal conflict is a skill we teach early on at OA. The honeymoon phase only lasts a few weeks, and then it is completely normal for any group to enter into sibling-like behavior, which can include not only great fun and laughter, but also some squabbling and eye-rolling. With principles such as Integrity and Self-Reliance, not to mention a cornerstone of Community, we value timely, compassionate, assertive and empathetic feedback as a way to keep our community healthy and happy.

Last weekend, students learned and then practiced how to give and receive feedback. They learned how to use “I” statements, choose an accurate feeling word, explain why they felt a certain way, and follow it with a request. The finished product might sound something like this: “I felt disrespected tonight when you laughed during my dinner announcement, because I was already nervous and I needed your support. Next time will you please not laugh when I’m speaking in front of the group?” This clear, concise way of communicating allows the speaker to share her or his experience of the situation, while eliminating a blaming, shaming tone usually found in “you” statements. Students also learned how to VOMP, which is a conflict resolution style used for more intense disagreements. VOMPing is a back-and-forth conversation that goes through four steps. The first step is Voice, where one person shares her or his side of the argument, while the other person listens. The second step is for each person to Own her or his part of the argument, acknowledging anything that she or he might have done to add to the disagreement. The third step is to share eMpathy for what the other person experienced, talking through what it might have been like for that person, such as what that person might have been feeling. During the eMpathy step, the discussion usually softens and both participants are allowed the space to feel the vulnerability of the other. Finally, the two participants make a Plan in order to avoid further miscommunications. These are challenging skills to master, but it is our hope to build a culture of feedback and respect during the OA semester by taking the risk to deal with things directly. It is important for students to feel empowered to offer and receive feedback from all members of the community in order for each of us to move towards becoming the best “self” we can be.

Susan Daily, Dean of Students 

FEB. 7, 2017

Alumni Gatherings 2017

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Eagle’s Nest and The Outdoor Academy are hitting the road this winter and spring! There are great opportunities for you to meet new friends or reconnect with the old at Regional Alumni Gatherings in your city!

Last week Liz Snyder travelled to our nation’s capital and hosted a really fun Happy Hour event at District Kitchen in Woodley Park. This group of “Capital Nesters” has been getting together frequently over the years, and in 2016 they collectively donated over $3,000 for scholarships for other DC area kids to attend camp and OA. What a cool way to give back to a place that we all know and love! This year, their goal is to raise $5,000, providing even more youth with the transformative experience of natural living.

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To all those living in the Lone Star State: Reily, OA Admissions Counselor, is coming to Texas this week! She is hosting Open Houses in Austin and Houston for prospective students, then going out on the town to meet with Alumni! Reily, a semester 25 alumna, is excited to meet and greet other alums in the area. Join her in Austin on Friday, February 10th at Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery , and in Houston on Sunday, February 12th at Goode Company BBQ.

Austin Tx Alumni Gathering Details

Houston Alumni Gathering Details

We are hosting many more events around the country in 2017…with dates and locations to be announced soon and in the Spring edition of The Eagle, our bi-annual newsletter! If you would like to receive a print version of this newsletter (and have not in the past…) fill out this online form with your contact information!

Looking forward to seeing all you alumni out there this year!

Cara Varney, Development Director