Eagle Rock Public Allies Fellow Develops His Own ‘Sense of Place’

jordan-cernaI arrived at Eagle Rock School a year ago as a contract instructor tasked with co-facilitating a wilderness experience for new students. The 38-day contract was to help provide a wilderness experience in which all incoming Eagle Rock School students must participate prior to becoming an official member of the Eagle Rock community.

While getting to know many students and staff at Eagle Rock during those initial days, I began to feel the connection and commitment these educators and kids had to their environment. Whether it was an educational opportunity or a place of employment, each individual knew they belonged to something very special.

This mountainside setting simply felt like a force of influence. As we all settled into our new environment, I saw students taking time from their learning environment to work on personal growth. I saw staff members who told me they returned to Eagle Rock after trying out new positions in other locations with other organizations. What powerful bond brought these individuals back to Eagle Rock?

As I walked the trails on campus and wandered around the rustic buildings in town, I purposely spent a lot o Continue reading…

Just Like on ‘Survivor,’ Our Grads Take Final ‘Rights of Passage’

At the end of each trimester, Eagle Rock School’s graduates head out on the trail for the traditional Grad Wild camping trip, a two-night experience that enables these grads to connect with one another and collectively and individually reflect on their Eagle Rock journey.

Much more condensed that the nearly three-week wilderness trek undertaken by our newest students, Grad Wild provides a brief but important time for grads to share their trepidations, hopes and dreams as they prepare to transition out of living at Eagle Rock.

On a Friday afternoon during the first week in December, students Alysha Dan, Javon Banks, Stacy Escobar, and Katie-Lynn DeRaps packed up their gear and headed out to the campsite, which is about a mile from the main campus. And, despite chilly temperatures, the graduates stayed up late playing card games, drinking hot chocolate and regaled each other with favorite Eagle Rock memories. Continue reading…

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…