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NOV. 25, 2015


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Cara Varney, Development Assistant


  1. the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

It’s that time of year, the time when we start to reflect on all the events of the past eleven months. A time when we look forward to spending cool days with family and friends, eating comfort foods and telling stories.  It is a time when we give thanks and share with the people we love.

The history of the first Thanksgiving is one with conflicting stories, but one thing most agree on it that it is a time to thank others for the blessings of the year. At Eagle’s Nest and The Outdoor Academy giving thanks and expressing gratitude are strong themes that grow into a common thread in the lives of the people here. We give thanks at meals, we offer love and gratitude to others daily, and this practice continues to build a meaningful and intentional community year after year.  This thread weaves a tapestry that goes back years and generations, and will continue on with the cultivation of supporting and caring for others.

This season of Thanksgiving falls under a category of festivals that spans cultures, continents and millennia. December 1st is #GivingTuesday. Now in its fourth year, this day is fueled by the power of collaboration, and the desire to help non-profits worldwide. Together with social media and individual donors, organizations have been able to raise vital funds to support their causes and programs.

It is not just that we feel grateful or express our thanks to others, but that we feel the sincere, intrinsic desire to give something back. For sometimes, when we express gratitude through words and deeds it enhances our own experiences of feeling grateful.

You just spent the weekend with your friends and family, perhaps braved the crowds and caught some Black Friday deals, now think about your family at the Nest, and what they mean to you. Join Eagle’s Nest and thousands of others on this day and make #GivingTuesday a part of your holiday tradition!  Express your gratitude, for the community that is cultivated here, for the time we spend in nature, for simple living, and to become your best self.

We invite you to get involved in two ways.

Get busy on your social media pages:

Giving Tuesday Graphic_blog

  • Make a few posts to your personal social media account(s)…email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. about #GivingTuesday
  • Use our #hashtags (#GivingTuesday, #togetherENF) and @accounts (@eaglesnest_hanteadv, @outdooracademy)
  • Make a donation! (on December 1st)
  • TELL YOUR STORY OF SUPPORT, and encourage others to visit our giving page online

OR Give us your testimonial, photo, #UNselfie, and donation, and we will post it on our pages in your honor!

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

John F. Kennedy

Cara Varney, Development Assistant

NOV. 10, 2015

Rethinking Identity, Prejudice and Privilege.

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Polly Averette, US History and French Teacher

Students spent the morning of Diversity Cornerstone Day, November 6 in workshops that created opportunities to rethink and experience different perceptions of identity, stereotypes, prejudice and privilege.

Activities of the first half of the morning highlighted the impact of identity markers and allowed students to feel what it means to be inside and outside the “normal.” They discussed obvious and not so obvious characterizations of identity groups that touched on majority and minority, wealthy and impoverished, power and privilege, religion, sexual orientation and ethnicity. They were encouraged to speak honestly from their own experience and to focus on listening quietly to each other. Even if the process was uncomfortable, students worked to define where stereotype markers come from and how they put pressure on “in” groups to conform to irresponsible behavior.

During the second half of the morning students discussed the invisibility of privilege to those who have unearned advantages and the emotional, psychological, social and economic damage to those left out of privilege. Activities were designed to illuminate the advantages of privilege, define earned and unearned privilege, and help students understand privilege, earned and unearned, in their own lives. Students concluded the morning experiencing different challenging situations and discussing how to use and influence others to use social power and privilege positively. They addressed the choices of joining the oppression, remaining non-committing bystanders or showing moral courage.

Lunch was a surprise Hunger Banquet. The largest group of students received a small bowl of rice, no utensils and sat on the floor. A few students received rice and beans, a spoon only and no condiments. The smallest group received a large delicious full meal served on a beautifully set table. Debrief included questions about fairness and feelings.

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Students spent the afternoon in Community Centers in town working on a variety of service, revitalization and environmental projects. This semester’s OA students realize they have power and are set to be leaders. Their many questions are directed toward how they are going to use that power. The Cornerstone Friday on Diversity helped get their thoughts focused in meaningful directions.

Polly Averette, US History and French Teacher

NOV. 3, 2015

Why do we paddle? Why do we climb?

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By Lucas Newton, Outdoor Education Manager

Yes, we are a school, so it needs to be all books, computers and classrooms right? Well, not necessarily, there is so much more to learn outside and from each other that students at The Outdoor Academy take away every semester, and I am grateful for that and this place.

Over the weekend of October 23-25, Semester 41 students left main campus to challenge themselves on the local crags and rivers of Western North Carolina/Eastern Tennessee. The weather was perfect, cool, crisp autumn air, and the leaves were in their peak season, my personal favorite time of year in our beautiful part of the country.

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Sure, there were some difficult moments, some beautiful moments reflecting near a fire adjacent to the mighty French Broad, and with all this, a plethora of community life and educational skills being learned by our students. As students begin to head into the Mastery phase of the semester, we as faculty are pushing them more and more to own their educational experience and we help facilitate this change within the community. What better place to start owning this than on an outdoor programming trip. As instructors we’re there for safety and guidance, but the responsibility of in-camp procedures falls directly onto the students (cooking dinner, setting up camp, facilitating evening meeting, etc.)

The following is a reflection paper excerpt from current OA student and former Eagle’s Nest camper, Natalie Valentine on her recent climbing trip to Cedar Rock:

When I’m on the rock, I achieve inner peace. I get a sort of tunnel vision, and I have no room in my brain for anything other than the current climb and my next move. I wish I could live my life more like I do when I am on the rock, focused and centered, ambitious, and only interested in the task at hand.

I also gain a deeper trust of my peers. I have formed deeper relationships with those who I belayed and those who belayed me. It was incredible to have those conversations on the hike up to the rock, getting to know my peers better. I feel even more connected to my community after this amazing weekend!

I am alright with this learning outcome, void of pencils, books and computers. Stay in the present, reflect on the past, and continually move forward.

 By Lucas Newton, Outdoor Education Manager

AUG. 14, 2015

Back to School…

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Julie Holt, Admissions Director

August always has that feeling of shift, newness, and the unknowns. Shifting seasons, shifting priorities, shifting attention … and the “Back to School” buzz is palpable to most in the US, even if you don’t have children or work in the educational realm. If you were raised in the US, I’m sure you have many memories of your own about how this season has felt for you. No matter how you feel or felt about school, I think that most of us can’t also help but feel a sense of wonder about what awaits this next school year. We, at The Outdoor Academy, are among few schools that get to feel that sense of anticipation, wonderment, and newness twice a year. We are looking forward to Semester 41’s arrival next Saturday, (8/22) when we get to both meet the individual students and see how they come together for the first time as a community.

As I write this, The Outdoor Academy faculty are gathering high up on a mountain bald off the Blue Ridge parkway, beginning the community building process and preparing for the 2015-2016 school year.  They have returned from summer break with great stories and grand adventures that have been filled with challenges, inspiration, new life lessons and so much more.   Our faculty have returned ready and eager to share their wisdom, forge new friendships, and fully engage in the learning process with the Semester 41 students.  Being part of the admissions process, alongside Cary Crawford, our Admissions Counselor, and picking up where Lindsay Martin, our former Admissions Director, left off, has been a most rich and rewarding task for me.

Over the course of the summer, I have come to know so many of the students and families coming this Fall.  I am finding that what I saw when I was here ten years earlier is that the aspect I loved most about this work then still holds true today – the OA students and parents are among some of the most determined and committed people I have ever met.  Most moving is the intention, the trust in the world, and the desire OA parents have to create life-changing opportunities for their children in spite of the sacrifices they have to make to do so, AND the students who are ready to step outside of their comfort zones, expand their horizons, greet the challenges and joys that life brings, and aspire to become better people.

Our School Director, Roger Herbert, says that the part in our mission statement – “the betterment of human character” – is part of our ethos.  It is that ethos, that all involved in Semester 41, our incoming students, our faculty, our Director, and all OA and Eagle’s Nest staff , embrace.  Taking a step away from the harried life, from the noise of everyday culture, from cell phones, twitter, sports – typical teenage activities – is not an easy choice.

Semester 41 and all future and past OA students (and parents), YOU are brave warriors,  and your experience here and the lessons you learn, and hence the wisdom you leave with, will not only serve you well but our world will be all the better for it.

Stay tuned for the stories and adventures of Semester 41!

JUL. 3, 2015

Meet our new Admissions Director

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Julie Holt, Admissions Director

Summer is a magical time in these mountains. The sun and rains of this season have arrived once again to sustain and remind us of the richness and diversity of the flora and fauna that exists in these ancient hills. Yet, as I look out the window here from the Sun Lodge base at The Outdoor Academy, there is a bit of a void. The Sun Lodge does not have the sound of OA students strumming guitars, sharing stories about their lives or lessons of the day, or reflecting on what they can do for the world. While the Admissions team is still busily preparing for the coming semesters without the usual sights and sounds of OA, there is nothing lacking in terms of inspiration. The rest of the campus is bustling with wide eyed and happy children and youth.

I see adventure and exploration, hear the laughter and the singing of the campers and staff, and can feel the enthusiasm that is reflective of the OA semesters. Watching these campers of all ages developing deep friendships and finding great joy in the simple things in life is truly inspiring. Some of them have been attending ENC for years, some of them are being welcomed for the first time, and many are OA alumni who have assumed leadership roles as JC’s or counselors. It is a sweet reminder of the seasons and how they do indeed go “round and round.”

Speaking of seasons, I want to introduce myself to you all and for some, re-introduce myself. I am Julie Holt, the new Admissions Director. I am returning to The Outdoor Academy after having stepped away 8 years ago to open a school for PreK-8th grade with a similar spirit to that of OA right here in Brevard.

I first made my move to these mountains back in 1998 and began working at Eagle’s Nest as the OA Assistant Director. As a Montessori trained teacher, what I saw happening at The Outdoor Academy made sense to me. Having left education and worked in the grassroots political realm for years, this was a welcome change. I was reminded that the education of our young people is where I could have the greatest impact on lasting change! Now, 8 years after I opened Mountain Sun Community School, it was time for me to return to the Nest.

This is an uplifting and exciting move for me. Not only have I returned to a place and in a role that feels like home, I am also bringing a new level of experience having served as a Head of School and as a parent. I believe The Outdoor Academy is one of the greatest experiences to prepare students for life. Many of the alumni I know & supported in the enrollment process over the years are starting their own families now, owning their own businesses, and creating their unique paths to being successful and positive contributors in their communities. They are organic farm owners, doctors, eco-sustainable business owners, non-profit directors, research scientists, to name a few. I think one of the things I like most about OA is that not only does this experience help shape the rest of our student’s lives, it happens alongside the development of life-long friends. Their lives are personally enriched with memories during their four months here that will last a lifetime!

I hope you have either experienced this for yourselves, through your children, or that you will in the future! I would love to hear from you this summer, whether you’re interested in enrolling or if you are a former student, call or email anytime!

Julie Holt, Admissions Director

MAY. 13, 2015


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Arrington McCoy, Dean of Students

We said goodbye to our Semester 40 students on Saturday. As we circled up one last time on Cabin 7 Field before their final send off I shared the following letter with the assembled families:

Dear Parents,

 On Orientation day when we first circled up together on this field, I shared the poem “On Children” by Kahlil Gibran, which starts like this:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you

And nor do they belong to us, though we too love them dearly. As we circled around a fire representing Semester 40, your children shared what they are taking away from this experience. They shared the person they are becoming, or perhaps have always been, but are just now unmasking. Adjectives like selfless, confident, strong, creative, resilient, loved and wild floated through the warm night and rested on nouns that included thinker, friend, activist, adventurer, traveler, dreamer and leader.

 It has been such an honor to greet each day of the last four months with your sons and daughters. To paddle the nearby rivers and climb the nearby rocks. To hike through these ancient mountains. To sing together. To work side by side. To share meals and deep, thoughtful discussions. To circle up and give thanks together, everyday.

 The story of these moments can be told a thousand ways. Listen for it in the song your son sings. Watch for it in the way your daughter takes in the sunset. Taste it in the food your child cooks. Encourage your children to retrieve the story of their time here, and to allow it to infuse their life going forward. And if they despair at the loss of OA, gently remind them, that they don’t actually need OA to be the phenomenal young men and women that they are. And please hug them for us–we will miss them so much, but we are excited for their journey ahead.

 With love,

The Semester 40 OA Staff