by Nina Jaeger
SCH Academy has developed a unique partnership with the Philadelphia Outward Bound School (POBS) and is getting kids outdoors even before they first step onto campus to begin their high school experience. Since fall 2014, all incoming 9th graders begin their high school experience with a five-day hiking, camping, and rock climbing expedition to Michaux State For-est and the Delaware Water Gap led by professional staff of POBS. As Head of Upper School Matt Norcini explains, “With one-third of the freshman class new to SCH, we believe that this challenging yet bonding adventure is an ideal way for the class to launch their high school jour-ney.” An Outward Bound experience was originally piloted at the school in 2010—with a few dozen students self-selecting for the program—as an extension of SCH’s robust outdoor pro-gram. It is now an integral part of the 9th grade curriculum, leaving a lasting imprint on every student.
When asked by wary parents why SCH makes this trip mandatory, Norcini explains that experi-ence has shown that “taking these young adults outside their comfort zone, away from technol-ogy and into the woods where they have to rely on each other to navigate the natural challenges creates an immediate bond for the class. Carrying a 60 lb pack, making simple meals by the campfire, and sleeping in a tent are equalizers that build confidence and character.”
Head of School Steve Druggan believes in the transformative potential of this experience: “We hope and expect that our students are thinking about how what they learned during their five-day Outward Bound experience can apply to their life in school. They realize they can dig deeper, they can rely on friends, that they can survive outside their comfort zone, they can work cooperatively with people with whom they at first did not feel they had much or even anything in common.”
POBS executive director Katie Newsom Pastuszek says that 25 years of Outward Bound expe-rience with young people has shown that putting students in unfamiliar and demanding situa-tions encourages them to develop compassion for peers in their group, gain confidence in themselves, and learn skills that potentially change their perspective about their place and sense of purpose in the world. POBS’s approach dovetails with SCH’s mission to help expand its students’ academic and personal potential as young people committed to effect positive change.
“Even the quietest members of the group discover strengths and that not only can they help others, but that it feels good!” she explains. The physical and mental challenges they experi-ence help them grow a lot in a short amount of time. “Natural challenges—rain, cold, rocky ter-rain, and more— are wonderful teaching tools; they are gifts. Students have to work through these challenges and come out the other side feeling good about having suffered through and surmounted them!”
Students reflecting on their experience after the expedition shared: “I thought before the trip that I could be a leader. Now (after the trip), I know that I am a leader.” Another acknowledged, “It taught me to respect others and help others. We would not have gotten anywhere without eve-rybody’s effort and patience.” Another admitted, “I learned that I need to have more faith in my-self, and if I need to get something done, if I put my mind to it, I can.”
The successful SCH-POBS partnership also reaches beyond the school community and has been used as a model for a pilot leadership program that the School District of Philadelphia has launched. Additionally, this year, students have contributed to a multi-year youth character de-velopment research project conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign at POBS. Researchers are trying to understand how youth learn and grow in programs like Out-ward Bound.
While “resilience” is a popular buzzword in education these days, it has long been part of the school’s vocabulary and is one of its five core values. The partnership struck with the Philadel-phia Outward Bound School provides yet one more opportunity for students to demonstrate per-severance, stumble or fail, and learn to recover from challenges. “Too many young adults are still scanning the sidelines for Mom or Dad’s rescue,” suggests Julie Lythcott-Haims in her best-selling parenting book, How to Raise an Adult. SCH will host the author in February to explore this topic further (www.sch.org).
Nina Jaeger is Acting Associate Director of Marketing and Communications.