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.
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:
It helped me grow as a leader because I had to step out of my comfort zone. I was in a completely different environment surrounded by privileged people who come from different backgrounds. It helped me to grow as a leader because it helped me to learn how to speak up — specifically about worldwide issues such as racism. I learned how to convey my message so that people who haven’t lived through my shoes could understand. I learned how to communicate effectively about what things need to get done.
Being Leader of the Day — especially for 11 people — can be challenging. It helped me to focus on what strengths I have as a leader. For example, I learned that I’m a very motivating leader, and when I speak up when needed I have a powerful voice.
This course challenged us to tap into our inner strengths. It also helped reveal to us what we still need to work on and that there will be situations that you won’t know how to handle, but you learn and grow from those experiences.
For example, while having conversations about racism, I couldn’t just ignore those comments, but honestly, I had never confronted someone for being racist before. Learning how to deal with situations like these were empowering because it helped me to find my voice. I constantly challenged myself during the course.
While hiking, I consistently pushed myself to keep going to pace myself and to not stop. I would encourage the girls to keep pushing as I cheered them on. By doing so the girls on my patrol saw me as their inspiration and as their motivation. I see it as leading by example. Summiting a mountain with heavy packs in high altitude its incredibly challenging and at times I doubted myself. But I had to finish what I started and had to continue to push what I thought were my limits.
By the time I reached the peak of the mountain it was a relief and a reward, because I had accomplished what I once thought I couldn’t. By the end of the course I gained my self-confidence and motivation back. It taught me that my limits are mentally imposed. If I put my mind to it I can truly achieve my goals.
The National Outdoor Leadership School, which is headquartered in Lander, Wyoming, is widely considered “the leader in wilderness education.” Often thought of as more of a “skills” school, NOLS’ curriculum focuses on taking groups into remote wilderness settings to teach leadership, technical outdoor skills, and environmental ethics. Founded in 1965 by wilderness education pioneer Paul Petzoldt, NOLS now conducts courses around the world.
Our partnership with NOLS has also been strengthening for many years. We are currently collaborating with NOLS to develop leadership curriculum that is more culturally relevant and inclusive for both of our programs.
Each summer, one or two of our current or former students are awarded a scholarship to a NOLS course through its Gateway Partnership Program. The intention of this scholarship is to increase racial diversity in the NOLS student population. This year Bryan Yanez attended a Whitewater Rafting/Kayaking course and Valentina Ramirez attended a Rocky Mountain Outdoor Educator Backpacking and Climbing Course.
When asked how his NOLS experience helped him understand what it means to be a leader, Bryan said:
First, I learned that no matter where you are, a leader learns from their mistakes, and that no one on my NOLS trip was expected to be perfect — including the instructors — and that was actually okay. I also learned that leading by example is one of the best ways to encourage someone to follow. Finally, I learned that no matter how many mistakes I made, I had the opportunity to learn from each one.
Here at Eagle Rock, we look forward to continuing our partnerships with NOLS and Outward Bound, as well as finding continued opportunities for our students to strengthen their leadership skills in a variety of situations.
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About The Author: Jesse Beightol is the outdoor education instructional specialist at the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colo. There, he is responsible for all outdoor and adventure activities that take place at the school, including Eagle Rock’s 24-day New Student Wilderness Orientation Course. He also serves as the chair of Eagle Rock’s Risk Management Committee, oversees Eagle Rock’s Leadership for Justice curriculum, and assists with Eagle Rock’s Discipline Committee. Prior to Eagle Rock, Jesse worked as a wilderness instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Wilderness Inquiry, Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge and Kent Mountain Adventure Center. Jesse earned a bachelor of science degree in outdoor education from Northland College (Ashland, Wis.) and a master’s degree in outdoor education from the University of New Hampshire (Durham, N.H.). He and his wife Denise both live on the Eagle Rock campus.