No one breaks the silence as the last student arrives in the circle and together they turn to walk up the trail. They climb together, leaving space for each student to practice a quiet walking meditation up the trail. Once a student arrives at the top they each retreat to their special place they claimed early in the semester: their Morning Watch spot. This is where they will spend time every morning watching the sun crest over the Blue Ridge Mountains, settling in and reflecting on the day to come.
While many of their peers back home are maneuvering through busy hallways, loud cafeterias, and crowded parking lots, students at The Outdoor Academy (OA) are allowing the pace of nature to set the tone for their full, intentional day ahead. This is just one example of the many traditions that make OA such a special and unique learning environment.
Established in 1995, The Outdoor Academy is an accredited semester school for high achieving sophomores located within the Blue Ridge Mountains of Pisgah Forest, N.C.
It is one of three programs run by Eagle’s Nest Foundation, a chartered non-profit since 1950. Eagle’s Nest Foundation also includes Eagle’s Nest Camp, a coed summer camp for youth ages six to 16, and Hante Adventures, a series of wilderness, leadership, and global adventures for teenagers. Each of these programs fulfills the same mission: “Experiential education for young people promoting the natural world and the betterment of human character.”
For 37 semesters The Outdoor Academy has educated students from all over the country, drawing heavily from the Southeast. Grounded by four cornerstones: Intellect, Environment, Community and Craft, OA uses the 180-acre wilderness campus to create integrated classrooms where students learn by doing. While the curriculum may look similar to any other school, the execution is vastly different. For example, there are no desks at The Outdoor Academy. You will find students sitting in the woods reading poetry for their English class, chasing their science teacher down the trail to look at growing fungi, building a solar oven to learn about parabolas in math class, or paddling a canoe on the campus lake as their teacher directs them toward the dock in Spanish. These are just a few examples of how the faculty at OA keeps their lessons exciting, engaging, and relevant to their students’ lives and interests.
Faculty at The Outdoor Academy also strives to educate the whole student, and recognize that these lessons often happen outside the classroom walls. That is why, in addition to their rigorous studies, students at OA spend about a month of their semester on incredible wilderness adventures like rock climbing, backpacking and white water canoeing. These trips not only expose OA students to the regional beauty and bio-diversity of Western North Carolina, but also allow them the opportunity to build essential life skills such as leadership, resiliency, resourcefulness, teamwork and compassion. These are the life skills that will propel them toward success in a dynamic 21st century.
Students come to OA for many different reasons: some are looking to enhance their current high school experience, some are ready for the adventure and independence of a residential boarding school environment, some are looking to explore a new eco-system unlike their home, and some are seeking to learn in a more engaging hands-on classroom. No matter the reason students arrive at OA, they inevitably step away four months later more confident, competent and curious leaders for tomorrow’s future.