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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

SEP. 4, 2014

Leading the Way

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“Adasahede” is a word you will often hear at The Outdoor Academy. It is how we identify our Leader of the Day; a role that students fulfill throughout the semester giving them a chance to practice their leadership skills, guide the community, and ensure that the day’s events run smoothly. For some students this is a comfortable and familiar role. Perhaps they already serve in leadership positions at home like captaining a sports team, acting in student government, or even being the eldest child in their family. For others this is a completely new endeavor. Taking on the responsibility of leading a community of their peers and even just carrying the title of “Leader” can be a daunting and nerve-racking experience the first time!

That is exactly why we have the Adasahede role at OA. We believe that each opportunity we can give students to step out of their comfort zone and into the limelight (or the front of the Sun Lodge dining hall) is a chance for them to grow beyond what they believe they are capable of.  We allow them to explore different leadership styles throughout the semester and challenge our students to lead in the manner that will best support the needs of the community around them. In the wisdom of Kurt Hahn, a founding educator of Outward Bound:

“There is more in us than we know. If we could be made to see it, perhaps, for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.”

One of my favorite traditions at OA is the passing of the Adasahede role. After dinner tables have been cleared and announcements completed, the current Adasahede is tasked with choosing a member of the community to fulfill that role the following day. It is someone whom they have observed to be a positive role model, makes extra efforts to help with daily tasks, and supports the needs of their Cabin and community. Not only must they choose the next day’s Adasahede, they must share their choice in a creative and innovative way each time. We have heard original poems and songs, solved riddles, played board games, watched magic tricks, and participated in dramatic skits just to find out who tomorrow’s Adasahede will be. The performances can be funny, heartfelt, silly, dramatic, or touching…but always original.

This week Franklin, our male Resident Wilderness Leader, was tasked with choosing the first student Adasahede of the semester. He began by describing the book he was holding: Endurance. It is the inspirational story of Ernest Shackleton whose incredible leadership kept his 27 person crew alive while their ship was stranded for 20 months on an Antarctic ice shelf. Franklin shared three quotes from Endurance that he felt described his choice for Adasahede:

“To him, Shackleton was a cheery happy chief who was leading his men in a great and splendid adventure.”

“To keep up the spirits of the men, Shackleton now worked as I had never seen him work before.

“During our next conference, Shackleton with characteristic foresight, began talking of the preparations we should make against the time when the ship would be no more.”

Although we are a community of students, not sailors, Franklin felt that these descriptions truly captured the unrelenting positive attitude and impressive work ethic of our first student Adasahede: Jack Swinson. 

Congratulations Jack! We are so proud to have you at the helm of our ship for Semester 39.

Lindsay Martin
Admissions Director




APR. 4, 2014

Making (Changing) Plans

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If you want to make Mother Nature laugh, make a plan. Last weekend, I learned a lesson in the necessity of flexibility alongside the students of the Outdoor Academy. We had planned for a weekend of paddling the French Broad River, but Mother Nature had her own plans.  We responded to them with flexibility. We adapted to our environment. We made a better trip than we’d originally planned.

On the first day of our trip the weather wasn’t ideal, but it was manageable, and we managed to have a lot of fun. Overnight, however, the cold crept in, and by morning the weather was so crisp that we decided not to paddle. When presented with an awesome opportunity like paddling, people can tend to act out of scarcity—“I won’t have this chance tomorrow, so I better take it today”—and they might accept less-than-ideal circumstances in exchange for a chance at a rare experience.  But risk management is about making tough decisions, and it just was not worth risking anyone’s safety for our desire to paddle.

Accepting our cancelled plans, we searched for the best way to use our time; we wondered what we could do to show our values to others and to remind ourselves of who we want to be. Jack, the co-leader of our trip, mentioned that we don’t always have the opportunity to serve our community as much as we’d like. He was right—all week we’d been noticing how dirty the French Broad was and how much trash was washed up on the shores.  But instead of just remarking on how dirty it was, we decided to start making things better.

So we split up into groups: one group went down the riverbanks collecting trash, while the other group stayed at the campsite. You see, our campsite was at the top of an 8-foot bank which was dangerously slippery from rain. We had to walk up and down this bank to get to and from our campsite, and because a lot of other outdoor programs use this site as well, we decided to help manage the risk to our own group and future visitors by building a few stairs. Not only would stairs decrease the risk of slipping, but it could potentially help prevent erosion to the environment by establishing a dedicated access point for the campground.

So the builders used Jack’s pinkit (a kit of tools like saws, carabineers, prusiks, and webbing which is used to help boats clear the river of obstacles) to form stairs of 3-foot-long pieces of driftwood, using river rocks to drive smaller limbs into the ground like pegs and packing dirt all around. Meanwhile, the collectors gathered a 3-foot-by-4-foot pile of trash that consisted of everything from 5 gallon buckets, milk jugs, plastic bottles, and old toys.  In fact, we’d collected so much trash it wouldn’t even fit it into all of our spare 55-gallon trash bags; we had to return with our gear bins and drag it back to the van.

As we were all reminded this weekend, we can’t control what happens, but we can control how we respond to those things. Indeed, this is what The Outdoor Academy is all about.  Each and every one of the students rose to the challenge—not one complained about picking up trash, and everyone was excited to help make this environment better. So let’s all strive to manage our attitudes in adversity; let’s all strive to make our environment, our communities, and our Academy a better place.

Derek Jacobs
Resident Wilderness Educator

MAR. 10, 2014

La Cruz School and OA

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A few weeks ago I read in La Nacion, a popular newspaper in Costa Rica, about 103 Nicaraguan kids that walk every day almost 5 miles to attend school in Costa Rica. They go to school in Costa Rica even though they live in a different country. It is a normal routine because they don’t have the same understanding of the imaginary line that adults agreed to create and divide both countries. They do not have backpacks; they use plastic bags to carry a few school materials. In the dust or mud, they walk an hour and more in each country, back and forth.

The first day of classes, they sang the national anthems of both countries. Ana Celia Canales, Head of La Cruz School say: “They take History and Geography of Costa Rica and they celebrate mother’s day 2 times a year because it is celebrated in different dates in each country.” Other celebrations can be more complicated. Even with different heroes and stories, the students get along well. The close relationship is not just between students but with the teachers as well.

I shared this information with my Spanish students, and they were very interested in helping the kids that attend the school. George Castillo, a student in Spanish IV, brought the information to the entire community during our community meeting and the students decided to organize themselves and gather materials to help these students. After contacting the Head of La Cruz school, she replied with the following e-mail: “Good morning, Our school is small, we are three teachers that teach basic subjects, one pre-school teacher, one English teacher and one that works with students with learning disabilities. We will benefit from materials like erasers, pencils, scissors, etc. It is difficult for these students to buy them because their parents are subsistence farmers.”

During Thursday’s student meeting, two days before their departure on Spring Break, the students created a list of school materials and every student signed up to bring one or two items with them. They are going to package the materials and mail them to the school in Costa Rica. All of the students are excited about this opportunity to help, and the Spanish students will write letter to start communication with some of the kids.

I am very proud of the students of Semester 38 for having such a compassionate heart and for the skills that they showed organizing themselves to help these students. I hope this is the beginning of a good relationship between La Cruz School and the Outdoor Academy.

Rodrigo Vargas
Spanish Teacher

FEB. 22, 2014

Understanding Gender Roles

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“Does our history affect our present reality?”

“Why do men’s clothes have so few options?”

“Why are more young males excited about parenthood than females?”

“What do you never want to hear spoken again about your gender?”

These were just a few of the questions heard around Cheoah last Monday. It was community meeting time at OA, and the topic was gender. The discussion opened with all of the students and staff who identify as women in the center of the room in a circle talking about what we like and dislike about being women. The students and staff who identify as men were laying down on the floor outside the circle, silent and listening. After a few minutes, the two groups switched and the women had the opportunity to be “flies on the wall” and listen to the men’s conversation.

It was a rare opportunity for each of us to solely listen to each other, without being able to respond or ask questions. I’ve participated in this activity before, but I am continually struck in each conversation by how so much of what is discussed in the men’s circle are worries, frustrations, and advantages that I have never thought about before and will probably never be able to fully understand.

The men spoke about the expectations to be strong and unemotional in public settings, the lack of creativity with men’s typical wardrobe options, how they wrestle with the history of male superiority, and how even today they enjoy the fact that when they speak in a group, people often inherently listen to their words and ideas. Is it due to their deeper or louder voices or somehow linked to cultural experiences? Some men spoke that they enjoy the fact that they can be more aggressive in sports, debates, and even everyday discussions without being judged or labeled negatively. Others didn’t like that people often make assumptions about men’s sexual orientation based solely on the activities they are involved in such as musical theatre or football.

The women’s group spoke about enjoying the freedom to lead either a domestic life or being able to enter into nearly any career they want and not being judged for either. They also spoke about how much they value their female friendships and being able to show more emotion towards their friends in public with less fear of judgment than men experience. Some women felt empowered by the ability to bear children, while for others, this was a source of fear and unwanted expectations.   Women wished that they felt safe in as many situations as men, especially when it comes to traveling in foreign countries or doing activities alone.  When it came to physical expectations of women, there were varied voices in the room. Some hated the expectations of women to shave, wear makeup, or eat a certain way,  and others loved the freedom females have to wear both men’s work pants and hiking boots in the same day as fancy dresses and heels.

Since the meeting, there have been many interesting ripples in our community. In some classes, women have found a more prominent voice in group discussions, more men have been experimenting with their clothing options, and the students are talking about having a day where they switch up any gender-related tasks and activities in the community.  I’m excited to see what they learn stepping into the shoes of others, but also, more interestingly, what they realize they cannot learn from simply changing their clothes or cabin activity.

Laura Kraus
Math and Art Teacher

FEB. 12, 2014

Community Meeting

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One of the most rewarding times of the week at OA is our Monday Community Meeting. It is a time when all the students and faculty can gather for a few hours and spend some important time together, whether that be working through some community issues or doing an activity that brings us closer together. Every week a different advisory group facilitates the meeting, and different students sign up to present a community issue.

Last week we had a great Community Meeting that reminded me why this is such a special activity at OA. Rodrigo’s Advisory group facilitated, and lots of students brought up really engaging issues. Toprak was our facilitator, and Miles called on students to speak. First Lily brought up the fact that the Den was a mess, and the students figured out a plan on how to make sure it was cleaned each day. Then Avery and Elsa brought up a similar situation in the mudroom, which we decided could benefit from a shelf above the hooks to put books on so they wouldn’t have to rest on the floor. Patrick then revisited the idea of students earning responsibility of lighting the woodstoves, and a method was devised by the community to enable students to be “checked off” to light woodstoves once they showed a staff person their fire-building competency.

A rousing discussion was then had about whether or not we should watch the Olympics. Some students were against it, saying that it took us away from the “simple living” that everyone signed up for, while others were for it, arguing that it was a rare event that would be fun to share as a community. After much discussion (that spilled over into Thursday’s Student Meeting during lunch), the community decided to hold their own Olympic Games during Outdoor Education time, while also watching a bit of the Olympics on Saturday night.

Jake then brought up the idea of holding a chess tournament, which was very well-received, and Isa talked about how students need to be sure not to leave clean-up until everyone was finished. In the middle of all these topics, we took a moment to draw our Giving Day names, which was incredibly exciting for everyone! By the end of the meeting, we had worked through so many community issues with great success and efficiency.

It reminded me why I love this school, and how important it is to give students ownership in the inner-workings of living in a community. Asking a group of people to live together 24/7 is not an easy thing to do, but I believe, especially after this meeting, that the students are starting to realize that working through conflict and challenges can be incredibly rewarding. As they learn to address their problems head-on, they are smoothing out the rest of their semester experience, and learning incredibly important life skills. Just another great day of school at the Outdoor Academy!

Susan Tinsley Daily
Dean of Students