NOLS and Outward Bound Scholarships Foster Leadership Skills

Each summer, we’re blessed with the opportunity to engage with students in a variety of outdoor education experiences both on and off our mountainside campus in Estes Park, Colorado.

In addition to our New Student Wilderness Orientation course, the summer trimester often includes classes such as For the Birds, River Watch, Colorado Rocks, The Physics of Mountain Biking and Outdoor Leadership. In addition, the mid-trimester Explore Week brings the highly sought-after Green River canoe trip and an outdoor outing to the famous Vedauwoo climbing area in Wyoming.

In addition to these opportunities, we are able to offer scholarships to students who have shown consistent interest in outdoor education , and have demonstrated leadership in various roles on campus. Through our growing relationship with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and Outward Bound (OB), Eagle Rock School is awarded a small number of highly coveted scholarships for our students to attend either a NOLS expedition through its Gateway Partnership Program or an Outward Bound expedition through its Pinnacle Scholars program.

Stacy Escobar-Outward-Bound-Eagle-Rock-School

Eagle Rock students are hand selected for these opportunities and are then able to choose from a variety of course options that best fit their interests. This summer, current Eagle Rock School student Bryan Yanez and Eagle Rock School graduate Valentina Ramirez were both awarded NOLS Gateway scholarships. Current student Stacy Escobar was awarded an OB scholarship.

While both of these programs are highly regarded on an international level, there are slight differences in their mission and curriculum. Outward Bound is, in many ways, considered a pioneer in outdoor and experiential education. It was founded in Aberdovey, Wales in 1941 by Kurt Hahn and Lawrence Holt, with support from the UK shipping company, Blue Funnel Line. , Hahn believed in the “concept of an intense experience surmounting challenges in a natural setting, through which the individual builds his (her) sense of self-worth, the group comes to a heightened awareness of human interdependence, and all grow in concern for those in danger and need.”

Outward Bound went on to develop a school in the United States in 1961 that is thriving at 17 different OB schools and centers across the U.S. The educational framework still emphasizes, “High achievement through active learning, character development and teamwork.”

A partnership between Eagle Rock and Outward Bound has been in place for the past seven years. Each year, one or two Eagle Rock School students receive scholarships through the Pinnacle Scholar Program. This year, Stacy Escobar chose to attend a month-long OB course in Utah that included backpacking, whitewater rafting and canyoneering. Stacy went into this course with strong leadership skills and was challenged with a group of students that came from a very different life experiences than herself.

When asked about her Outward Bound experience, Stacy said: Continue reading…

Connecting Wilderness Field Experiences to Academic Success

As frequent readers of the Eagle Rock Blog may already know, the Eagle Rock School New Student Wilderness Orientation Course is a staple rite of passage in the Eagle Rock student experience. All new students, since the founding of the school in the early-1990s, are challenged to start out their Eagle Rock experience by leaving behind the comforts of modern society and heading out into the wilderness for 24 days with a small group of strangers/fellow incoming students.

They are required to sleep on the ground, cook their own food, face the challenges that Mother Nature presents, and deal with all of the issues that arise in small group living. On top of that, these students are challenged to take a deep look at themselves, working on self-awareness, self-control, effective communication and tools that will help them to be successful in the Eagle Rock community.

Our wilderness courses follow a typical Outward Bound type model (backpacking, rock-climbing, solo, service, etc.) where the group — focusing on personal growth and development — gradually builds towards more independence from the instructor team. But we differ dramatically from most outdoor programs in that this is truly an orientation program with the primary focus of preparing students for both the academic and student living experience on campus.

Eagle Rock School Wilderness Orientation

Literally everything we do during the first five weeks of the new student experience should be focused on helping these novice Eagle Rock School students to achieve success in their time here.

When new students arrive, their first week is packed full of the Eagle Rock experience. They are expected to fully engage and participate from Day One. The intention of having a full week on campus is for the students to fully understand what they are getting into. That time also provides our wilderness instructors the opportunity to observe these “newbies” and have something to draw from later when Continue reading…

Recapping Our Latest Wilderness Presentations of Learning

Eagle Rock’s 66th trimester (ER 66) brought us 10 fresh-off-the-bus students and a return to the wilderness for our New Student Wilderness Orientation Course. The program remains among the staples of the Eagle Rock School student experience and, in fact, we have been conducting these courses since the school’s founding in the early-1990s.

Three times a year, we gear up and head out to the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico, or the Lost Creek Wilderness in Colorado for a 24-day backpacking course. The trips also include rock climbing, rappelling and a three-day solo experience.

This orientation program places students in unique situations, during which they have the opportunity to gain valuable learning experiences. This learning is made possible by placing students in a new, unfamiliar setting (wilderness) where they must rely on themselves and each other to succeed, and where the usual distractions of adolescent life — smartphones, TV, fast food, drugs and alcohol, cars, malls, cosmetics and hair products — are absent.

Eagle Rock School Wilderness Orientation

Underlying this novel setting and providing the basis for change is a foundation of trust and the student’s perception of the wilderness as a setting riddled with danger and risk. Overcoming the unique problems that a wilderness trip typically presents requires a cooperative effort among all group members.

Putting together the “wilderness puzzle” of problems leads to feelings of accomplishment, enhanced self awareness and self control, as well as a feeling of personal responsibility for self, others and the natural environment. In the end, the skills that students develop on the course will help them successfully contribute to the Eagle Rock community and ultimately to society as a whole.

Courses are 24 days in length due to the fact that it usually takes an individual about three to four weeks to develop a habit or change a behavior. We think 21 days is the minimum amount of time we can spend in the field to effect positive changes. Most students don’t become aware of, or begin working on, changing behaviors until five to eight days into the course, so the task for us is to have students continue the work they started on the wilderness trip back on campus.

While on the wilderness course, students are working on skills related to Eagle Rock’s mission and philosophy (8+5=10) in the following categories:  Continue reading…

Meet The Team: Matt Bynum, Eagle Rock’s Outdoor Education Adjunct Instructor

Matt_Bynum_Eagle_Rock_SchoolThe one place you’ll seldom find our latest featured Eagle Rock educator is in the classroom. Matt Bynum is our outdoor education adjunct instructor and you can’t do all that much hands-on teaching about the Great Outdoors when four walls topped by a ceiling surround you.

Matt starts each trimester either instructing or directing our Wilderness Orientation course, and then, if time permits, he teaches an Explore Week course. The second half of each trimester finds him busy managing the wilderness gear, developing curriculum for our outdoor offerings, coordinating the Veteran Pin system, serving on our Risk Management Committee, and teaching the occasional wilderness class.

We sat Matt down — not an easy task — and quizzed him on his background and interest in progressive education.  Here’s what he had to say:

Eagle Rock: Where did you receive your college degrees?

Matt Bynum: I graduated in 2006 from Western State College in Gunnison, Colo. I majored in outdoor leadership and minored in environmental studies. The classes I took there helped get me really excited for outdoor education while building a solid base from which to work. I loved the hands-on approach and small class sizes. I can’t thank those professors enough. 

ER: What did you do prior to coming to work for Eagle Rock? 

Matt: Before my Public Allies fellowship in 2009, I worked as an instructor and course director at Outward Bound in Colorado for five years. These were predominantly mountaineering courses. I also did a summer of trail work, taught environmental science, and guided outdoor trips at my college. Immediately before coming back to Eagle Rock in 2013, I was teaching at a public school in Commerce City through Goodwill. When I was not instructing, I spent time traveling and climbing in Patagonia, Ecuador and Asia. 

ER: What attracted you to Eagle Rock? 

Matt: A friend in college first told me about Eagle Rock. A few years later, I was Continue reading…

An Outdoor Education Fellow’s Perspective of The Eagle Rock School Wilderness Orientation Course

Since Eagle Rock’s inception, a new student wilderness orientation course has been an unconventional tradition that sets ours apart from other learning habitats. As an Outdoor Education Fellow, I continue to be blown away by how Eagle Rock engrains — and then celebrates — the wilderness experience as a right of passage for new students.

The moments they first step foot on campus, new Eagle Rock School students find themselves surrounded by veteran students and the first topic of conversation is inevitably, the wilderness course. These more experienced students talk about how much they enjoyed it or hated it. They offer the newbies tips and tricks on staying clean, or the best way to snag some extra toilet paper.

And soon, these fresh new faces hear about circles — a restorative process that is used frequently while in wilderness. Like the name suggests, students and instructors form a circle in order to create an emotionally safe space for discussions. Interestingly enough, there has been an evolution in how students reminisce about their experience with circles.

It was often described as a negative experience, but over time, something has changed. The concept of circles, and the perspective of them, has changed. I’ll explain why I think this change has occurred in just a moment.

I often tell students near the end of the 24-day wilderness expedition, that one of the many reasons we go out into the backcountry for two dozen days is because there’s really no place to hide. Wilderness forces us all to step up to the plate, to embody our strengths consistently, and it exposes areas with which we are struggling.

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Sometimes, it exposes problem areas we didn’t even know we had. But the one thing 24 days gives us is time. We have time to stop, time to contemplate, time to discuss what’s going on. And time to figure out how we can move forward in order to curtail, contain or take the power out of a conflict that might impede the functionality of the group — our community.

Of course, conflict is unavoidable. We like to think it is a healthy approach to developing a positive group culture that correctly, and appropriately reflects the vast values and perspectives of its community. An introductory way that we do this is with affective statements and questions. These tools are incorporated into circles and the progression of questions the facilitator uses. One-on-one coaching is an essential tool of the wilderness instructor. Students often need support in how they bring up issues or frustrations with affective statements.

For instance Continue reading…