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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

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 

NOV. 18, 2016

The Spark of Our Thriving Community

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Smoke is in the air at The Outdoor Academy. For the past week, we have breathed the exhaust of external fires, questioned the effect of drought on our temperate rainforest, and caught echoes of political turmoil swirling through the U.S. Yet, it seems turbulence in the larger world has little power to negatively influence our small community. We continue to chug along despite the harsh climate, singing a mantra of ‘I think I can, I think I can.’ Or perhaps, ‘Inch by inch, row by row’ may be more accurate for readers familiar with our Eagle’s Nest repertoire.

At the beginning of the week the students took pleasure in the smoky red super-moon, curling howls into the cold, fall air. Some of my peers on the faculty undoubtedly joined them from the top of Looking Glass rock, after completing a night-climb of the classic North Carolina Route ‘The Nose.”  In the world of intellect, my students in Algebra II powered through our last week of class before break. The entire class of Environmental Seminar wrote letters to their respective senators outlining steps we may take as a country regarding environmental policy, putting to use the knowledge they’ve earned. And, as always, our faculty meeting last night resounded with reports of this or that student stepping up in Crafts, English, or Science.

I see now I misspoke earlier; our community is not just chugging along, we are thriving. The smoke of external fires does nothing to slow our progress ever forward. At the core, we at the OA try never to see problems, only challenges. A step on the crumbling edge of the trail with a heavy pack, a fall to a twisted ankle; these are elements to a recipe for a painful and challenging trek. However, there also lies the chance to find new strength, to learn reliance on your peers, to find further limits to your endurance, to ice your swollen ankle in the freezing skinny-dip falls, and to feel the wonderful warmth return when you can bear the water no longer. These are the lessons our students will remember the longest, when things were dang hard, and they kept moving anyway. In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, I am most thankful for the inevitable proof our students give that there is no hill too big to climb together (I think I can, I think I can).

Robbie deBurlo

Math Teacher, Medical Coordinator, and Wilderness Instructor 

DEC. 18, 2014

A Call to Action on Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests

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Noni Waite-Kucera, Executive Director

Dear Friends

The US Forest Service is in the midst of revising the plan of how our local national forests will be managed.  As someone who has hiked these trails, swum in these waterfalls and camped on these  grassy  balds, Eagle’s Nest thought you would be interested in voicing your opinion about how these public lands will be used going forward.

Under the current proposed plan, 70% of the forest (700,000 acres) will be open to logging (“suitable for timber.”)   You can read more about it in the  Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests Plan Revision 

Public comment is needed by January 5th at either of the following addresses: 

Email comments/ submit to: NCPlanRevision@fs.fed.us
Postal mail comments to:  US Forest Service, 160 Zillicoa St, Suite A, Asheville, NC 28801

Pisgah Group, NC Chapter of the Sierra Club recommends:

The following areas are in the “suitable for timber” management areas.  If you are writing, we recommend you choose areas/ trails that you love and ask that they be protected:

Art Loeb trail (south of BRP), Cat Gap, Farlow Gap in the Fish Hatchery area, Black Mountain, and the Black Mountain areas of Lost Cove Ridge ( Black Mt. Campgrond to Green Knob) and Colbert Ridge (Carolina Hemlocks campground, Celo) Couthouse creek & falls, Overmountain Victory Trail (west of Linville Gorge),  Big Ivy (Coleman Boundary), Unaka Mountain, John Rock,  Devil’s Courthouse Creek, Bluff Mt near Max Patch

The following areas should be recommended for Wilderness:

Black Mountains

Craggy Mountains (Big Ivy)

Joyce Kilmer – Slickrock Extensions

Linville Gorge Extensions

Mackey Mountain

Middle Prong Extension

Overflow Creek (Blue Valley)

Shining Rock Extensions;       Snowbird WSA

Southern Nantahala Extensions;     Tusquitee Bald;   Unicoi Mountains

Speak up and let your opinion be known!

Noni Waite-Kucera, Executive Director

SEP. 26, 2014

New Kid on the Block

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Interviews are supposed to make you nervous, especially the ones for jobs you feel were tailored for you. When you throw in a three and a half hour drive through a torrential downpour to a place you have never been, more nerves surface than ever before. As I traversed the stairs that were parading as a waterfall the day I arrived at OA I felt more comfortable than I thought possible, these were people like me. People who love working with kids, people who love being outdoors, and people who welcome you with a hug, not a handshake. I had found what I was searching for.

A wonderful interview, well what I thought was wonderful, was followed by a soggy tour of the grounds and me trying to keep my excitement to a minimum as to not appear too strange. Eventually I got that fateful call inviting me to be a part of the Outdoor Academy team. Wait. Can this be real? The whirlwind began and before I knew it I was moved into a house and was walking into a room filled with other OA employees. Intimidation…is what most people would feel, but no, everyone was beyond friendly and welcoming. How did I get this lucky is all I could keep asking myself.

Coming to a new place, not knowing a single person, and starting a new job can be overwhelming and stressful but I have not yet experienced those feelings. That is what makes OA such a special place, it is filled with genuinely caring, kind, thoughtful people who will do anything they can to help anyone in need and welcome you with open arms.

Cary Crawford
Admissions Counselor