Students gain new perspectives in the mountains

March 13, 2018

During the first semester of the school year, sophomore Henry Yates was learning about global food economics instead of the American Revolution, and backpacking through the Blue Ridge mountains instead of walking to Chemistry. This was everyday life at the Outdoor Academy (OA).

After hearing of other Decatur High students who went to the Outdoor Academy, Yates decided to attend in hopes of finding a more inspiring way of learning.

“The backpacking trips were really fun,” Yates said, “because I had never done anything like that before.” 

The OA is an “accredited residential semester school for high achieving sophomores and select freshman and juniors” (Outdoor Academy) located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Due to the small number of attendees, the program helps establish a tight community among the 26 students. They also learn academic subjects, wilderness skills and leadership through hands-on experience and outdoor adventures.

“I like the system better [at the OA] because learning is much more engaging,” Yates said.

In addition to its unique approach to teaching, the Outdoor Academy takes its students on rock climbing, backpacking and camping trips throughout the semester. These trips, sometimes lasting up to five days, were all new experiences for each student, especially Ava Carubia, a sophomore at Maynard Jackson High School.

“[The rock climbing trip] was really fun and cool because I had never rock climbed before on an actual rock, just gone in a gym,” Carubia said.

Carubia heard about OA through a presentation that her summer camp, Eagle’s Nest (located on the same campus as the Outdoor Academy), showed. She chose to attend the program because of the challenges it presented.  

Carubia called her parents once a week while at the OA. “You could get letters from friends and family,” she said, “but there was only one landline phone, which we all shared.” 

“I wanted to do something different that would be more exciting than regular school,” Carubia said. “I really wanted to learn more about the outdoors and just live in a different environment.”

One of Carubia’s favorite experiences during the semester was a backpacking trip to Ivestor Gap, in Tusca Forrest.

“We got to sleep under the stars, and we woke up the next morning to this really amazing sunrise. It was so beautiful,” she said.

Yates appreciated the people with whom he shared the unique Outdoor Academy experience. The close quarters, similar views and information learned among the students in the program made it harder and “bittersweet” for him to adjust back to Decatur lifestyle.

“I just noticed a lot more… because you have to be so liberal at OA, that when you come back, you notice all these little subtexts and nuances that you didn’t pick up on before, and everything seems a little awful at first,” Yates said.

The Outdoor Academy experience is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, which for Carubia, was what made it so special.

“I made some of my best friends that I have ever made, which is really amazing,” she said. “It was really, really hard [to leave] because we became a family.”

Both Yates and Carubia gained eye-opening facts about the environment and lifelong lessons while at the Outdoor Academy. Newfound knowledge about the chemicals put in food, along with how it’s produced, sparked a change in Yates’s diet until he returned home.

“It’s unfortunate and sad that I haven’t stayed consistent to what I learned [at the OA],” he said.

Carubia’s exposure to new experiences resulted in a permanent change in how she approaches her academic life.

“I definitely think that I’m more confident in school and I’m not as scared to take risks,” she said. “I’m happy that I’ve been able to push myself because of Outdoor Academy.”

 

Photo courtesy of Ava Carubia.

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