Semester 49 has one week left before they end the semester and head home. It’s an odd limbo to be in. I see students so happy to be together, to be living this action-packed, full-to-the-brim life and still, months into their experience, learning new things, working on the best versions of themselves, holding each other accountable…but also knowing that it’s also a time to start the separation process. Some students are ready. They love being here, but they are also ready to go home, be with their family and friends, and take what they’ve learned here and apply it to home. Some students are more torn, having found the joys and rewards of living in an intentional community and realizing they are about to leave it. The process of transitioning from one experience to another can be messy, unpredictable.

But it is also good practice. During our Community Circle last night, we talked about the reality of this experience coming to a close, and reflecting on how each individual in this community, including faculty, have grown and changed throughout our time together. Research has shown that the more positive, high-impact experiences teens can experience, the more productively their developing pre-frontal cortex gets wired to favor positive self-esteem, confidence, healthy risk-taking, and resilience. Learning how to enter into an experience, connect with a diverse group of people, struggle and fail or succeed, get in touch with powerful emotions, and navigate transitioning away from that experience, all without your parents around, is really powerful training for life situations as an adult. 

We also discussed how students can continue to seek out experiences that are close-knit, intentional, and life-changing. The Outdoor Academy is one of those experiences, but there are many more, be it other semester schools, summer programs, outdoor organizations, travel and living abroad, summer craft schools, organizations that do focused volunteer and service work, environmental internships, or even diving into a club at school or a local organization in town. This experience is almost over, but there is a whole world of eye-opening experiences awaiting all of these students if they want to seek them out.

Sometimes, as a faculty at OA, we sit around and muse how amazing it would be to have these students with us for longer. We see such transformational change in just four months – imagine what would happen after three years! And, of course, we love these teenagers very much, and it’s hard to give up the chance to see them every day and continue this journey together. But we always come back to the same place in our conversation. Would it be as powerful if it were longer than a semester? Does the ephemeral nature of the program lend it its’ strength? The stories of our alumni, going out into the world and creating powerful positive change, gives us our answer. Transition is hard. We hate saying goodbye to each other. But Emily Dickinson was on to something when she wrote, “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” Though it is only one semester, this experience will open pathways to our students previously unknown. We can’t wait to see where they will lead.


By Susan Tinsley Daily