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APR. 6, 2017

From Trash to Statement Piece

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“We live in a world where we thrive off of materials. We need to decrease our consumption, repair and recycle the goods we do consume, and over all CONSERVE!” – Tess, Carmel, IN
Art Piece: glass bottles, cans, acrylic paint, paper cut-outs

Last Friday the 24th, Semester 44 took part in our third OA Cornerstone Day. Named Legacy Day, this particular Cornerstone Day is a brain child of Katie Harris, Dean of Academics and English teacher, and Brian Quarrier, our Crafts and Environmental Seminar teacher. Cornerstone days are best described as an interdisciplinary exploration of a broader topic; for example the ‘Legacy’ we leave behind for future generations.

Cedar Ann ceramic pot, glass, flowers. Brevard, NC In every piece of trash there is a life. this piece represents the beauty and life that can come out of something someone else thinks is trash.

Cedar Ann
ceramic pot, glass, flowers.
Brevard, NC
“In every piece of trash there is a life. this piece represents the beauty and life that can come out of something someone else thinks is trash.”

The students spent the day studying an integral part of our culture’s lasting physical residue: trash. As part of the week building up to the Cornerstone, Brian and Katie required the students to carry their waste in their own personal trash bags. When Friday rolled around, the students began the day with a morning tour of the Transylvania County Landfill, which was the first time many of the students had ever been to a major dump. The culmination of the trash-carrying activity came when the students were able to deliver their bulging bags of trash for the week directly to the landfill and experience first-hand the monumental amount of garbage we amass on Earth every day.

Davi cigarettes, gloves, cans, plastic bags, other trash Atlanta, GA This is a picture of a beach but made of trash. This represents how the oceans and beaches are being filled with trash. I want the viewer to feel sadness about the pollution from us ruining nature. I’m specifically raising awareness about our trash getting carried out into the oceans, beaches, and islands.

Davi
cigarettes, gloves, cans, plastic bags, other trash
Atlanta, GA
“This is a picture of a beach but made of trash. This represents how the oceans and beaches are being filled with trash. I want the viewer to feel sadness about the pollution from us ruining nature. I’m specifically raising awareness about our trash getting carried out into the oceans, beaches, and islands.”

In the afternoon, the students moved on to create some positive change in reaction to their morning at the dump by picking up a densely-littered public area. The students of Semester 44 ended the day creating art with materials from their afternoon cleanup. The photos here document some of the pieces created by our talented students. We have also shared and some of the thoughtful statements from the artist in which they reflect upon confronting the mountains of garbage we leave for future generations.

Robbie deBurlo, Math Teacher, Medical Coordinator, Wilderness Leader

MAR. 31, 2017

Gigantic Hellbender Found in Swimming Lake

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An astonishing discovery at Eagle’s Nest this spring has set the herpetological community afire. “We drain the swim lake every winter, and I’ve never seen anything to suggest we had a monster living here” stated Taylor Mackay, livelong Transylvania County resident and Eagle’s Nest Staffer, adding an understated “yikes!”

Apparently this year was different. A small hole, about the size of one of, Eagle’s Nest Chef, Mark Walker’s meatloaves appeared under the diving board as the waters receded. When prodded with a broken canoe paddle, the waterlogged soil gave way, exposing a gaping entryway into an unknown underworld. When a headlamp’s beam revealed the glow of two eyes in the slimy abyss, amphibian expert Posey Lester-Niles was called in to investigate. “Step back – I want everyone out of the lake!” she commanded in a surprisingly authoritative voice, (because, you know, we all think she’s still eight. Ah, they grow up so fast . . .) Then, to everyone’s shock, she disappeared headfirst into the black void, trailing a old yellow canoe painter that should have been replaced years ago. Those things were always too thick to actually tie. An unseen but obviously violent struggle ensued. A stomach-churning moment of silence, then a cheer as Posey backed out into the sunlight, straining at the rope. First, tantalizingly, a tiny tailtip, then a growing and seemingly endless wall of amphibian flesh was dragged into the light of day, ending in a flailing head the size of . . . well, you know that sun medallion thing hanging on the back wall of the Sun Lodge? It seemed that big, but probably was a little smaller, given most Eagle Nester’s tendency to exaggerate. Still – really big. OA student, Cedar Ann Skeen, at the scene, said it best. “No, so wait, it was like, LITERALLY, huuuuuuge. And this time I’m using literally correctly! No, really! Why are you laughing at me?”

Accurate depiction of a Hellbender. (trees added for scale)

Accurate rendering of a Hellbender (trees added for scale)

So, the great beast was finally subdued and carried by six OA students to the little plastic swimming pool that Camp uses for basketmaking class – the one we keep under the dining room porch, you know? The Leviathon finally stopped thrashing and was stuffed into the pool and only fit after its tail was wrapped around a few times. It was accurately keyed out as an abnormally large hellbender with Peterson’s second edition of A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America – the slightly dog-eared copy that lives on the little white shelves next to the computers in the Sikwayi library – not the regular built-in shelves that look like solid wood but are actually that weird flakeboard. OA students added Feeding the Beast to their daily chore list and it has thrived on stale cho-chos and day-old mac and cheese.

Although Smithsonian officials have requested that the gigantic creature come to live at the National Zoo, the all-wise and powerful Eagle’s Nest Executive Council has decided to return the creature to our pond. “Given the fact that we already have Big Lex in the Fishing Pond, it only seemed right to have a gigantic Cryptobranchus alleganiensis to terrify the kiddies in the Swim Pond” stated OA Director Roger Herbert, who knows a thing or two about being amphibious.

T. Wesemann, OA Faculty 

(You know – that gray-bearded guy you always think must be somebody’s grandfather, not a teacher. I mean, how old is he?!)

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 

NOV. 7, 2016

Observations on the Eve of Decision 2016

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Community is one of our four Cornerstones here at The Outdoor Academy.  It is a main focus of our students’ education during each semester.  We have Community Meetings weekly that provide a space for the students to come together to work through issues or develop plans for student driven initiatives.  We eat meals together as a community, we make decisions as a community, we experience the highs and lows of life as a community.  Community is more than a number of people who coexist together in the same location.  It is a body of people who genuinely care about each other and want to grow together.

Our community nestled in the mountains of Western North Carolina is so strong that, oftentimes, it is easy to forget that the world moves on outside these mountains.  We all know, however, that very important national events are stirring beyond our idyllic campus.  During this historic presidential election, Semester 43 is taking the initiative to witness these events that will certainly affect their lives, perhaps profoundly.

At our last Community Meeting the students brought a plan to the community to ensure their presence during the live broadcast of the presidential results.  Students worked together to develop a plan that included equipment, faculty and staff involvement, and timing.  The hunger for knowledge, the drive to be part of something bigger than themselves, and the fact that these students are not able to cast their personal vote for a candidate speaks volumes of the ownership they exhibit for their own learning and place in this world.

To add to the election night interest, Roger, Director of The Outdoor Academy, has been supplementing media stories of this election with insights from political science, which he has offered the community during daily announcements and also down times throughout the day.  Questions such as ‘What is the Electoral College?’ and ‘Where does my vote go?’ are abundant.  These future voters are getting more than a current news story; they are learning how a president comes to be.  They have a chance in my class to study the electoral map and calculate mathematically the various scenarios that would lead one candidate or the other to the White House.

electoral-college-talk-43408

It is incredible to serve at a school where a student can be interested in something and seek it out, with enthusiasm.  It is incredible to serve at a school where faculty and staff jump in with both feet in order to guide students in finding answers and solutions to the questions they’re asking.  And it’s no wonder that the sentiment expressed at our last faculty meeting was: “Aren’t we lucky to teach these students?”  Our answer was yes, we are.  We definitely are.

Racheal Duffy, Math Teacher and Wilderness Leader 

OCT. 11, 2016

Living Large at The Outdoor Academy

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Last weekend our students were on campus and planned a Fall Fun Day, reenacting a few of their favorite childhood activities from autumn and Halloween. We had just returned from an idyllic ten days in the field – five on the Appalachian Trail and five at our base camp at Cataloochee in the Smokies. Clear fall weather, the most stunning views in the Blue Ridge, true friends that are evolving into a solid and meaningful community, the Andromeda Galaxy wheeling overhead at night, bear cubs frolicking at a mountain cabin, solo hikes under the huge trees of the Caldwell Fork, and songs and stories in a hillside graveyard under the Milky Way. Life just doesn’t get better; this group knows that and made the most of our time away.

Around the campfire our last evening at Cataloochee, I overheard an intense conversation between Andrew Steed, a student, and Roger, our Director. Roger had led a discussion on ethics that day at an abandoned farmstead deep in the woods and with the fire flickering on their faces, they were now deep into Aristotelian virtue vs. deontology vs. utilitarianism. Yes, take a second to read that again. And this was on the heels of a conversation I had that morning over the campstove about genetic engineering and another some days before about Russia’s militarization in Syria. This fall – outside of the classroom – I have been part of conversations about the feminists of the 1970’s, the Balkan War, Woodstock, Angela Merkel’s refugee policy in Germany, the feasibility of an Islamic State in the Mideast, climate change, NASA’s Mars program, artificial intelligence, the electoral system, capitalism, slavery vs. state’s rights and the Civil War, Brexit, FDR and our entry into WWII, Black Lives Matter, NC’s HB 2, government regulation of Wall Street, and those are just the ones I recall now.

So yes, those six bear cubs were cute, and bobbing for apples is fun, and backpacking is a blast, and s’mores are delicious; but don’t think for a second that American teens are vacuous and self-centered and glued to their phones. Not these kids anyway. I am always, always pleased and proud to know that these are my colleagues and friends. They surprise me everyday with their curiosity and enthusiasm and empathy and, without any overstatement, I think the future is in good hands.

Ted Wesemann 

Natural Science, World History, Appalachian Craft