JUL. 3, 2015
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
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:
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.
The Semester 40 OA Staff
FEB. 11, 2015
Well, another admissions travel season has ended, and what an exciting time it has been! Not only did I get to travel around the country meeting potential Outdoor Academy students, I got to meet alumni and their families. I remember being anxious upon starting these trips back in the fall, staying with families I had never met, traveling to school after school and being expected to keep the attention of teenagers, ahhhh the nerves! I was told OA alumni and their families are the nicest, most welcoming people you could ever meet. Well, that was not an exaggeration. Whether it was welcoming me into their home, inviting me to their dinner table, helping me with a school presentation, or hosting a gathering for alumni to get together and reminisce, everyone I met went above and beyond!
In addition to meeting students and families that have already participated in a semester at OA I was able to meet so many incredible potential students from the schools I was able to visit. I get so enthusiastic when telling students about the opportunities that are available here at the Outdoor Academy and to see the excitement in their eyes during my presentation and hear it their thoughtful questions is such a positive feeling. It is nice to know that even though I am not on campus, sitting at my desk doing work, my work on the road is making a difference. When you have had a long day and are sitting in a room by yourself and you receive an email that three students have just submitted applications from the school you just visited, it is an amazing feeling.
I feel extremely lucky to have spent the last few months getting to know the circle of these Outdoor Academy alumni and families, lucky to have listened to their stories of the four months that changed their lives, and it’s special knowing that I am part of something that is making a difference to so many people. I am eagerly anticipating welcoming all the new students and families that will soon join this special OA family.
Cary Crawford, Admissions Counselor
JAN. 14, 2015
Each Opening Day before families arrive our faculty gather in a circle, arms linked, and “welcome” the beginning of the new semester. After many busy weeks of classroom preparation, curriculum planning, and facilities cleaning, we take this quiet moment to reconnect – to each other, to our students who are anxiously making their way to campus, and to our intentions for the next 4 months. Eager smiles, confident nods, and eyebrows raised in excitement are all exchanged around the circle as Ted covers the last minute details of the morning. There is not only anticipation filling the room, but an expression of communal gratitude in those silent exchanges that envelopes the circle in warmth and praise. We have all worked hard to reach this moment – the precipice of a new adventure – and are anxious to begin. Noni leads us in the song Simple Gifts:
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘It will be in the valley of love and delight.
As I look around the circle at the OA faculty I can feel my eyes begin to well. This is not abnormal, as I often cry on Opening Day. Watching children and families say goodbye to one another, some for the longest time they have ever been apart, will get me every time. But, I have never been touched in the same way by our Faculty circle on Opening Day. As I listen to my friends sing the words to Simple Gifts, I am struck by what a unique and special place OA really is. Not because we have a wilderness campus on 180 acres of beautiful forested land; not because we offer engaging experiential classes and a small faculty to student ratio; not because we go on amazing wilderness trips throughout the semester. Any program can offer those components, and in fact, many others do. What makes OA so unique and special is the people who have chosen to live and work here.
It is a school filled with the most passionate, creative, inspiring, and gifted educators I have ever known. They are committed not only to the empowerment and growth of their students, but also to their community in a manner not often realized at any organization. They see greatness in every teenager who steps onto this campus – and will dedicate countless hours of support and challenge in pursuit of their ‘best self.’ They believe in the Cornerstones of this school, and live by its Seven Principles in their daily lives.
I have witnessed the long hours of collaborative lesson planning, the tender conversations with families, and the exhilaration of developing a new program that they just know their students will love. I have seen this faculty challenge their students with compassionate feedback, hike to the summit of Cold Mountain before sunrise, and offer companionship in the scared moments at the base of a rock face. I have heard them cry, rejoice, run, celebrate, and howl with their students through the woods. I have listened to their classroom debates, and their collegiate level conversations with the expectation that their students will hold court. I have seen their immense pride on Closing Day, and their sorrow when saying goodbye to the students who have now become their community.
So, for the 28 families from across the country who have so generously shared their unique and special children with OA for the next 4 months, rest assured: they are in good hands.
Lindsay Martin, Admissions Director
APR. 23, 2014
A glimpse of life on Trek.
“I want to share a poem with you that I wrote today,” the young man stares into the fire, the dancing flames reflected in his glasses. He opens his handmade journal and settles back against the log. In a calm voice, barely audible above the crackle of the fire and the whistling of the wind, he begins to read.
I feel alive when I speak
to let the world hear as
the ground pushes me up
there is nothing left to fear.
I feel alive when I laugh
to wiggle my toes and feel loose
as the atmosphere seems to dim
this is what I’d choose.
I feel alive when I cry
to leave and travel afar
as you dream of a utopia
no feathers and black tar.
I feel alive when I sneeze
to take a second and separate
as time is put at halt
it is my moment to create.
We all applaud when he finishes, thanking him for sharing. We smile and look into the flames, contemplating his words—contemplating what it means to be alive.
This question is so perfect at this moment because we have finally come to the capstone of a semester’s worth of outdoor programming—a semester of learning how to live in the woods, testing limits and stepping out of comfort zones—we are on our ten day trek. Ten days of hiking, carrying our lives on our backs, struggling up mountains, basking in the warm spring sunshine, crossing rivers, facing fears and finding a piece of ourselves in the wild. After two months of preparation the students are finally ready to take the reins and lead their own epic adventure. The students really do come alive out here. Just as our trail poet alluded to, in the wilderness we are able to wiggle our toes, travel afar and separate. In actual miles, we are close to campus, a mere thirty minute drive, but it seems as if we are much further. Learning how to cook a meal in the woods, how to set up a tarp in the rain, how to filter water for drinking and how to take care of each other on the trail—all of these lessons push the students to become more alert, more proactive, more alive.
Resident Wilderness Educator
MAR. 26, 2014
Weekends at OA can look a little wild. When we are on campus (about 4 or 5 weekends a semester), we could be doing anything from building stoves out of soda cans, mapping our woods, playing guitar in the sunshine, or an intense trail run. A couple of weekends ago, we had a bit of time for what we like to call Sense of Place skills. Again, this could vary from baking bread to writing poetry to rock climbing. Our offerings this particular Saturday included needle felting, climbing on the tower, and my personal project, “Talkin’ about stuff.”
Semester 38 has a philosophical mind. The students are motivated by problems they are made aware of and really love to dig into an idea. We’ve done a couple of other philosophy-based activities and students keep asking for more. But on this sunny afternoon, as I described the activity I was offering, I quickly began to doubt whether or not I would get a single student to follow me inside towards the whiteboard. Four did. This is something of a landslide victory for philosophy, which might be described by high school students as the least interesting subject in existence.
The five of us proceeded to discuss this quote:
“Your genes do not belong to you, your genes belong to humanity.”
And the discussion moved me. Emotionally, I mean. As I listened to the students’ focus and insight, their ability to bring in sources from their science, English and environmental seminar classes with precision and clarity, I become so proud. Everyday now I continue to be so grateful to work and live in an environment where learning is loved and respected as it is here. Give thanks, OA.
Resident Wilderness Educator