In this letter from Aiden Downey, a parent from Semester 57 , Aiden shares about his daughter’s OA experience last fall and offers advice to incoming parents of The Outdoor Academy. If you would like to talk directly with Aiden or another recent parent, the Admissions Office would be happy to connect you. Email Katie at 


Dear Prospective OA Parent,

If you are like me, you are probably wondering if your son or daughter will actually benefit from attending The Outdoor Academy. In our case, I worried that the small class size might mean that my daughter ended up with a bunch of people she did not mesh well with. I worried about the academic level, as Maeve was a high flier in her high school, and I did not want her to not be challenged academically and then return to her sending school woefully behind. I also wondered how she would do out in the woods, and particularly how she would respond to having to “solo,” which is a culminating experience of the semester.

Those were my worries going in, and I can say from this end of it that all were unfounded. 

First, OA does such a good job at teaching young people how to engage with each other and deal with communication and conflict. I was blown away at how well they communicated with each other and how much better our daughter now communicates with us. I remember dropping Maeve off and wondering if and how she would get along with kids that I knew she might not be hanging out with in high school. But then to pick her up and see her not wanting to leave them was just so touching. OA does such a good job on the social end of things. Everyone was included and valued.

Maeve had an outstanding academic experience. The curriculum was integrated and the teachers outstanding. The real trick that OA pulls off is empowering young people to see themselves as having knowledge and skills. My daughter worked hard on her classes not for grades but for the sake of learning. She came home talking about her classes, what she learned, and what she was thinking about far more than she ever had in her regular high school.

In terms of the outdoors aspect, my daughter really found her footing to the point where she actually enjoyed her two nights out by herself (the “solo” is on campus with frequent check-ins, don’t worry). That means that her experience fundamentally shifted her relationship with the outdoors. She is not afraid of it, as she is a part of it. She wants to take us on backcountry camping trips now.

I have to add two more things. First, no phones/electronics is a game changer. Maeve said they related to each other better and after a few days did not miss their phones. She came home with a new understanding of her technology use, and that is priceless. Music is such a big part of OA, and my daughter came home playing the guitar. I was blown away by how much the students sang at the graduation and then on their own at a party after leaving. My daughter has continued to play music, and again this is priceless.

So, I can say without reservation that the OA experience is transformative, and from what I’ve heard from fellow parents, it was for their children too. I would recommend taking OA up on their offer to talk to former students or parents, as they will say the same things. My daughter was not an outlier in terms of her experience, as the students really became a family and took care of one another. Oh, and at the graduation I was blown away by the number of students who stated that they had come to better know and trust themselves as well as open up, relate better to others.

Finally, I have been in education for much of the past thirty years, and I can spot a well-designed, well-run program. OA is just that.

-Aiden Downey, OA Semester 57 Parent