Princeton Intern Learns There’s No Easing into the Water at Eagle Rock

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If I were to best describe my recent introduction to Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center, the phrase I would use is “Hit the ground running.”

That’s because only moments after my arrival on campus, several Eagle Rock students invited me to sit down and eat breakfast with them — this before I had even met the Eagle Rock staff member, I’d be reporting to during my summer internship. Two hours later, I was issued a pair of yellow shorts and a T-shirt that proclaimed my membership in Juniper House, one of Eagle Rock’s six on-campus residential houses. Then I was rushed off to a day of intramural soccer matches with the staff and students.

The author, Abelardo Cruz (center), with Eagle Rock School students in the cafeteria.

While this whirlwind experience might appear intimidating for someone who had never stepped foot on campus, I’ve come to realize that diving into the deep end is not only normal, but almost a common occurrence in order for its community members to gain a firm grasp on the school. The fact that new Eagle Rock students are required to complete a 24-day wilderness orientation trip just a week after their arrival here only confirms that theory.

While orientation trips are not all that uncommon among educational institutions, a month in the backcountry seemed extreme, even to someone like me who leads wilderness orientation trips for fellow students at Princeton University.

Which leads me to ask why an introduction to Eagle Rock has to be so abrupt. And today, after a month at this mountainside campus in Estes Park, Colo., I have come to the realization that the entirety of an individual’s time here is a series of ever-changing experiences that constantly push both staff members and students to grow.

Even the classes, which appear to be some of the more structured parts of the school, are ever evolving to tackle new issues and engage students in new ways. In my short time here, I have witnessed impressive instruction in courses that include mountain biking, mural creation, college preparation, ethnic studies, and the dissemination of systems. I have sat in on some of these classes and participated as a guest speaker in others.

And I have discovered insight on topics I could never hope to find at many of the top universities in the country. Yet here at this high school, the students are taught — not only academically — but in a real-world sense where they are not afraid to advocate for themselves and question teachings in order to truly understand. From my vantage point, that is an inspiring thing to see instilled in young people.

I have also been able to add my experience to the Eagle Rock family in multiple ways, including participation in intramurals, house bonding activities, and hitting the weight room with students. Moreover, I have been given the opportunity to teach a financial literacy course for the community that focuses on budgeting, investing, and completing individual income tax forms.

And I consider those moments I get to share with staff and students — ranging from deep and meaningful conversations about our lives to gossiping over our favorite anime series — as among the most rewarding of my time here. Such events only strengthen my desire to go into the educational field after graduating from Princeton.

Indeed, change and growth are some of the most prominent themes at Eagle Rock. During a conversation with Robert Burkhardt, my alumni mentor through PICS (Princeton Internships in Civic Service) and Eagle Rock’s first Head of School, I learned this: He told me he hoped I could take away more from Eagle Rock than I could ever possibly give.

At first, his advice caught me off guard. To my way of thinking, it sounded selfish. But after some more thought, I realized that I only get to intern here for eight weeks, while most everyone else is here for the long haul. That ranges from the Public Allies Fellow who is here for a year or two, to the students who spend several trimesters on campus, to staff members who have been working here for decades.

Eagle Rock exists — and prospers — because of the work and passion every individual here has contributed since the school opened in the early-1990s. It is for that reason that the Eagle Rock is constantly changing and working toward something more. It is also for this reason that — regardless of why someone may come to Eagle Rock — they will undoubtedly take away more from the experience than any one individual can contribute to it.

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About the Author: Abelardo Cruz, Eagle Rock’s Summer 2019 Student Services Intern, is an Economics major at Princeton University in Princeton, NJ. There, Abelardo participates in PICS, an Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center-aligned program that operates on the belief that community service is essential to the welfare of society.

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