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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

MAY. 11, 2017

Garden Work in the Transition of Seasons

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When I took a walk down to the Eagle’s Nest Garden this week to see how progress was coming for this summer’s growing season, I half expected Bella to thrust a pair of work gloves or a tool into my hands.  For all that she has been doing this semester to prepare for the sunny days of the western North Carolina summer, Bella was just as eager to pause and talk about the work that has already been done and the many projects that lay ahead.

For those of you who have not heard, Bella Smiga joined the Eagle’s Nest community over the winter as our Foundation’s Garden Manager.  After wrapping up an undergraduate degree in Environmental studies at the University of Colorado, Bella worked in the solar energy industry.  During that time she started exploring gardening on her own, found that she enjoyed the simplicity of growing food and the sense of self-reliance it brought her, and began dreaming about a career of feeding people without further damaging the earth.  Last year she completed a Master’s degree in Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College where her education focused on both the practical application of low-impact farming and using sustainability-minded agriculture systems to build community.

Since her first afternoon at Eagle’s Nest, Bella has been working with the weekly Outdoor Academy garden work crew on projects to prepare the land for spring plantings.  These projects have included trimming back and rebuilding trellises for the raspberries and blackberries and pruning locust trees to let more light onto the growing beds.  As we stepped through the willow fence and out onto the fields, Bella explained her next steps.  The garden is at the transition point between the winter and the summer.  Cover crops, meant to replenish the soil with nutrients and stave off the erosion of rich topsoil, still cover most of the fields.  Seedling plants, including peppers, beets, broccoli, yellow squash, onions, several varieties of tomato, eggplant, zucchini, watermelon, and many herbs are being carefully nurtured in their infant stages as they await planting.

As winter fades and the threat of the last killing frost disappears, Bella is starting to experiment with new growing methods.  “One teaspoon of healthy soil contains more living microorganisms than there are people on the planet,” she reminds me.  Most farmers till the soil every spring to integrate new nutrients and prepare the land for new crops.  Yet, Bella fears the damage tilling can do to the soil life—healthy dirt makes healthy vegetables, after all.  While she explores no-till growing methods, Bella also has plans to refurbish the raised planting beds used to grow crops.  These are great teaching spaces for students and summer campers to relate back to a growing scale they might have seen in a home garden.

Bella will continue to plan planting and harvesting schedules, track growth of the plants, and weed rows of crops.  Throughout the year, different young people experience different parts of the farming process.  During these last two weeks of spring at the Outdoor Academy, Semester 44 will continue to enjoy some of the early plantings that are ready to be harvested, such as lettuce, kale, garlic, and radishes.

Eric McIntyre, Resident Wilderness Educator

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.

buffalo-cove-44108

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.”

buffalo-cove-44146

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

SEP. 26, 2016

The Hard Work of Community

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This is my first semester at The Outdoor Academy. I’ll be honest, it’s something I’m self-conscious about at times. I look around me and I am surrounded by an incredible faculty with years of experience as educators and a diverse, rich history here at OA. Sometimes I have questions. “When can students start listening to music in the kitchen?” “What time does study hall end?”

But I have not for one minute since the beginning of semester 43 had a question about this being the right place for me. Every day I wake up, I go to breakfast, and I get to give thanks for being a part of this community. Believe me, it is a community to be grateful for. This is the type of community where we struggle to pick volunteers because there are so many hands up in the air and where students take initiative to plan activities in their free time so nobody is left out. It is the type of community where we celebrate each other’s accomplishments and regularly share our appreciation for each other.

Despite all of the things our students can boast about, Semester 43 is a community that (like the students) is currently in adolescence. Like anything that is worthwhile is not always easy and it is not always perfect.  One evening, very recently, I was incredibly lucky to be a part of an honest and insightful self-evaluation by Semester 43. Our students sat around a room and shared not only the successes of their group but the areas in which we are currently falling short. People spoke about feeling afraid to speak up and acknowledged that some members of this family of ours aren’t being treated as they should be. Though there were certainly moments of praise, I sat there in awe of how willing these young people were to acknowledge their downfalls as a group and, more importantly, how genuinely concerned they were about the feelings of their peers.

We are drawn to the good. We so want to see all of the great things that the people around us are doing that we sometimes fail to see our shortcomings. But then sometimes we are lucky enough to be around people who want to be better—people who are committed not only to their own personal growth, but also to the growth of the people around them and the family that they are a part of.

As someone with more connection to the outside world than our students, I am all too familiar with reading the news and being taken by a sense of despair and doubt. But I am lucky. I have come to a place that gives me hope. As was recently mentioned by one of our students, Semester 43 is coming into the world and will have the power to do good. Having meetings like these gives me hope that our students will keep striving to be better, to make their communities better, and to make this world better.

Work Crew Semester 43

Semester 43 Work Crew

Marisa Melnick,  OA Resident 

DEC. 16, 2014

A Handmade Christmas

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Katie Harris, Dean of Academics, English Teacher, and Wilderness Leader

Saturday morning. This means bacon and eggs, Amanda’s grits if you’re lucky, and then time for morning work crew at OA. Students last Saturday, however, buzzed about the Sun Lodge with unusual energy: we were getting ready to march in the Brevard Christmas parade. Reindeer antlers, red and green costumes, ukuleles, and even a knitting needle or two came out of the woodwork. A group of students and I were tasked with creating several Christmas wreaths to go on a big red canoe that would be carrying two very cute small children.

We headed over to my front yard, took stock (a mysterious red berried bush, a holly tree, and infinite boughs of evergreen), and got to work.  Listening to the holiday music of Vince Guaraldi, drinking hot chocolate, and making decorations was such a nice way to spend time with the students and acknowledge that the season of winter is indeed here. I loved how the students went about planning for their role in the parade—nearly everything was handmade, including the banner that read, “A Handmade Christmas.”

Katie blog

And so the seasons of giving in our Western and OA cultures coincide. Last Friday, the students and staff of Semester 39 celebrated our final evening together with a long-standing tradition here, Giving Day. Each gift had been thoughtfully created with its recipient in mind, and each gift had been made by hand. Most of us were so excited to give our gift that the fact that we would be receiving one in kind almost came as an afterthought. It is paradoxical, and yet, this night is often my favorite night of the semester, though it means I will be saying good-day to these students I have gotten to know so well in these last few months. Thank you, thank you, Semester 39, for what has truly been an incredible experience at The Outdoor Academy. I will miss seeing you on campus. And please, keep in touch.

Katie Harris, Dean of Academics, English Teacher, and Wilderness Leader

OCT. 27, 2014

Trek is in the Air

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We’ve been having perfect fall weather this past week. Blue sky days, crisp air and the occasional breeze that sends down rusty orange leaves. But it is time to leave behind our cozy cabins and delicious oven-cooked meals behind and head up higher into the mountains for nine days of trek.

Trek is an opportunity for all of us to truly live to our schools principles of simple living, self-reliance and work ethic. Our days will revolve around meeting our basic needs of food, water and shelter, as well as walking (lots of walking!). We will have everything we need for our time in the mountains on our backs. And we will see, with more clarity than ever, that each person must truly pull their weight in order for our group to function well.

Trek is also the ultimate teacher. Nature doesn’t nag or coddle. If it rains, the mountains aren’t concerned if you’ve failed to water proof your pack or set up your tarp well. And a star filled night or the pink clouds of a sunrise can inspire thoughts and feelings that you can’t quite access anywhere else.

We’ll look forward to sharing our stories when we return.

Arrington McCoy, Dean of Students