FAQ – About Alzar School

General Questions

  1. What does "Alzar" mean?

    Alzar is a Spanish verb which translates to "to rise," "to elevate," "to lift," or "to boost." It is used in many different expressions, such as alzar el vuelo (to take flight), alzar la carpa (to pitch a tent), alzar la vela (to set sail). As a verb, it indicates action, and Alzar School students are full of action.

  2. We're on the fence... why should we become part of the Alzar School?

    We know that the idea of a high school student studying away for a semester can be daunting.  But, we are confident in the value of this experience and we welcome students, parents and school officials to contact us directly (info@alzarschool.org or 208.639.9891).  We can answer questions directly and can often assuage any concerns.  Please know that hundreds of students around the country participate in semester schools and have great experiences.

  3. What are the criteria for admission?

    To be accepted at the Alzar School, students must be capable and motivated, ready for advanced, college-preparatory academic work. Students must also demonstrate strong character because they will be given significant trust and responsibility from the beginning of the semester.  Students must not have a significant history of dishonest and/or irresponsible behavior—academic or otherwise.  Students must be willing to spend the time at the school drug and alcohol free (if you think you might be tempted to break this rule, please do not apply). Third, the student's application and references must indicate that she/he has the desire and potential to become an effective leader who will work to make the world a better place.  Please see the Alzar School Student Eligibility Criteria.

  4. What makes Alzar School unique?

    The Alzar School is built on our Six Foundations: leadership training, academics, outdoor adventure, service learning, cultural exchange, and environmental stewardship. It is our unique combination of these six foundations that makes the school stand out. We are a small program that places emphasis on genuinely challenging high school students to become leaders. We don't think that "someday" they can make a difference...we know that they can make a difference today and we want to give them the tools to do so.  The Alzar School team has attended, taught, and met with students and staff at hundreds of schools all over the world.  We are confident that there is no other program in which you can invest in yourself as a leader as intensively as you can at the Alzar School.  If you're considering multiple semester schools, sign up for a free guide to comparing various programs.

  5. What is the mission of this school?

    The official mission of the school is: to educate and facilitate the leadership development of high school students. That mission statement might be summed up as "The Alzar School is trying to mold the next generation of leaders, the people that will go out there and make significant change in the world."

  6. Why does the Alzar School exist?

    The Alzar School is helping to fill the leadership void. The world needs more leaders to tackle social and environmental issues. Many students think that the point of an education is to prepare them for a job, to make a living, or for more education (college, med school, etc). We believe that students can be expected to do more, that education is meant to prepare you to make the world a better place.  We know that our students will be well prepared for the challenges of university and that they will be able to make a living in a career of their choice.  They will be able to achieve these things and have the leadership skills to direct their energy and talents toward improving their local communities and confronting the global issues that they are passionate about.

  7. Is the school a non-profit?

    Yes, the Alzar School is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that is officially registered with the state of Idaho and the IRS. That means that contributions to the school may be tax deductible (check with your accountant to maximize your donation). It was approved as a 501c3 in April 2008.

  8. How is the school funded?

    Currently, the school relies on a variety of sources to fund the school. First, private donations make up a significant portion of our funding. Additionally, we are applying for numerous grants to support the school. At this point, we do charge students tuition, however our courses are heavily subsidized by the donations we collect. We also seek to minimize tuition costs by drawing from an ever increasing pool of passionate and committed volunteers whenever possible.

  9. Who runs the Alzar School? Who works for it?

    The Alzar School is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. That Board consists of: Kim Tanabe (President), Katie Hawkins (Vice President), Cailin O'Brien-Feeny (Treasurer), Turin Dickman (Secretary), Ken Anderson, Shauna Arnold, and Tucker Schrage. Additionally, the two Alzar School administrators, Sean Bierle (Head of School) and Kristin Bierle (Executive Director) sit on the board ex oficio (because of their positions).  We also have a volunteer Advisory Committee made up of experts from the fields of education, outdoor recreation, business, medicine, service, etc. These Advisory Committee members are located throughout the United States and offer their guidance to the school. A full list of these members can be found on the Alzar School website. Besides Sean and Kristin Bierle, there are 7 full time teachers, a Director of Recruiting, Admissions, and Enrollment, a Director of Advancementan administrative assistant, and 3-4 teaching fellows.  Read the staff bios here.  The Alzar School recruits some of the most professional and passionate educators as teachers and staff on its programs.

  10. How long has the school been in existence?

    The school has been in existence since 2004, when it was founded by Sean and Kristin Bierle. At that time, the school offered three-week expeditions within the United States, Mexico, and Chile prior to launching our semester program.  Our first full semester was in the Fall of 2012.

  11. Are there any parents or students that have been a part of the Alzar School that I could talk to?

    Definitely! We have several families who have been a part of the school who would be excited to share their experience with you. Please email info@alzarschool.org and we will help to arrange a conversation.

Academics & Curriculum

  1. Is the Alzar School accredited?

    Yes! The Alzar School is fully accredited by the Northwest Accreditation Commission and AdvancED.  This is the same institution that accredits all the major public and private secondary and post-secondary schools in the region. It is one of 6 regional accrediting agencies. The Alzar School has also been approved by the College Board to offer certain Advanced Placement courses, and to administer the PSAT and AP exams.  Our CEEB is 130096.

  2. Will credits from the Alzar School transfer to my/my student’s sending school?

    As an accredited school, it is much more likely that the credits earned at the Alzar School will transfer directly onto the student’s transcript at their home school. However, it is the responsibility of the student and his or her family to confirm this before enrolling at the Alzar School. The administrators of Alzar School are happy to help you communicate with the sending school to educate them about the many scholastic benefits for students who invest a semester of their high school career with us.

  3. What is the school’s core curriculum?

    The Alzar School’s curriculum is centered around developing young leaders. We have designed our curriculum to be college-preparatory, for students in their sophomore or junior years of high school. While on a semester with the Alzar School, students can expect to take all their traditional core classes—Math, Science, English, History, and Spanish. In addition, our curriculum is integrated through our leadership program, which includes our "10 Elements of Leadership."  This unique curriculum is based on a variety of leadership training models and philosophies. We have researched leadership in a variety of settings and created lessons relevant to high school students. Not only do students study leadership academically but they also apply these lessons in multiple designated leadership roles throughout their semester with feedback from peers and teachers.

  4. What courses are you offering students for the upcoming school year?

    We have tried to design our course list based on what most motivated sophomores and juniors would be taking at their home school. If the Alzar School does not offer a course that you need, it may be possible for you to take that course as an independent study under the mentorship of one of our teachers. For the full listing of courses for the 2015-2016 school year, please see this Curriculum Guide.

  5. How big are class sizes at the Alzar School?

    Each semester will host a cohort of 24-30 students. With 6-7 full time faculty, 3-4 teaching fellows and 24-30 students, the ratio of students to teachers is less than 3:1.

  6. What are the “10 Elements of Leadership?”

    The 10 Elements of Leadership are: 1) Character, 2) Technical Proficiency, 3) 360˚ Thinking, 4) Resiliency & Resourcefulness, 5) Communication Skills, 6) Accurate Awareness, 7) Personal Leadership & Follow-through, 8) Community Membership & Service, 9) Inspiring Vision, 10) Continual Learning & Improvement.  These elements give students and teachers a common vocabulary with which to discuss leadership.

  7. Students take a rigorous curriculum at home, will they fall behind?

    They shouldn't!  Because of our small number of students and dedicated staff, the teachers at the Alzar School are going to be able to help our students excel.  Through extra tutoring and course flexibility, we will help them make sure that they are covering all the same objectives they would at their sending school.

  8. What about college? How will this look on applications?

    We believe that participating in an Alzar School semester will add a very unique component to both college applications and résumés. The culminating leadership project is an aspect to be especially proud of... not many high school students can say that they lead and implemented a significant project to make the world a better place!  Alzar School alumni are lifelong learners. They go on to continue their education at some of the finest institutions in the country. Here is a sampling of schools our graduates have gone on to: Appalachian State University, Augusta State University, Boise State University, Clemson University, College of Idaho, Colorado College, Duke University, George Washington University, Idaho State University, Middleburg College, North Carolina State University, St. Mary’s College, San Diego State University, Universidad de Desarrollo (Santiago, Chile), University of Mary Washington, University of Puget Sound, University of Montana, University of the South - Sewanee, University of Washington, Vanderbilt University, Whitman College.

  9. What sort of partnerships are there between the Alzar School and a student’s home school?

    Because students join the Alzar School for only one semester of their high school career, one of our top priorities is to develop a strong partnership with each student’s home school. We work hard to align our curriculum to ensure academic success upon reintegration. We also have open communication directly between our teachers and a student’s home school teachers. Each year, representatives from the Alzar School visit schools all over the country to create and nurture these partnerships. We encourage schools to become a sending school or a member school.

  10. What about standardized testing?  Does the Alzar School offer the tests or test prep for the PSAT/SAT/ACT?  Can students take online test prep courses while at the Alzar School?

    While we understand that standardized tests play a large part in the college admissions process, the Alzar School is not specifically a "test prep" program.  Our students engage in a rigorous academic curriculum which bolsters their reading, writing and mathematics abilities. Subjects that are ubiquitous within standardized tests such as the PSAT/SAT/ACT.  In the math and English courses, there is a small amount of specific preparation for those types of exams, and AP courses have some activities specifically designed to help students prepare for the AP exams.  During the Fall semesters, all 10th and 11th grade students will take the PSAT while at Alzar School.  There are a limited number of testing dates that work with our intensive schedule for the SAT and ACT.  During the semester, students have workloads and time constraints that make taking a test prep course difficult if not impossible to do on top of the immersive experience.  Therefore, the school recommends students interested in those types of courses take them either before or after their semester at the school.  During the semester, students do have some free time which they can elect to spend studying for standardized tests independently.  Students have found success bringing a test preparation book with them to do this.  However, note that feedback from past semesters' students and parents has indicated that it is incredibly important for students to be able to use free time to "recharge" and excessive studying during this time can lead to academic burnout.

Student Life

  1. What sort of student excels at Alzar?

    The Alzar School is designed for highly motivated teenagers who want to make a difference in the world. Students should do well in a traditional classroom, but also desire to do something more. Our admissions department looks for leadership potential. This might be demonstrated by community service, participation in school clubs and teams, or other civic involvement. Once at the Alzar School, the most successful students are those who keep an open mind, who are willing to work hard when needed, and who generally have a positive attitude.

  2. Where do Alzar School students come from?

    Alzar School students come from all over the United States, and semesters regularly include students from Chile. Check out this Google map showing our network of alumni. The list of places from which we draw students continues to grow.

  3. What about friends, family, and extracurricular activities?

    We know that it may seem difficult to leave life at home for a semester. But, that challenge is also one of the greatest opportunities that comes from joining the Alzar School. Our students will have the chance to join an incredible group of peers who want to be leaders and change the world.  They will get to see more of the world and learn about themselves in the process.  They will make new friends from all over the country.  And, students won't sever all connections with home.  At campus and in Chile, they have the opportunity to use the internet to check in and phones to call friends.  There will be times when students are on expedition when they will be out of touch, but have plenty of opportunities to stay connected with family and friends.  As for extracurricular activities, the Alzar School does not offer competitive sports, but students will have the opportunity to stay in shape through daily activity.  Students can also practice instruments and work on art skills daily. For more information, please email info@alzarschool.org. We’re more than happy to respond to any questions or concerns.

  4. How will families be able to stay connected?

    At the Alzar School, students will have access to the internet and their cell phones while at our base campus. There will be times while on expeditions (both in the mountains and while in Chile) when students may not be able to reach home every day. During these times, the school will still check in regularly and we often post blog reports sharing what we are up to. For most of the semester, parents will have plenty of opportunities to call and hear about the amazing experience the students are having. Each semester also has a Parents Weekend, which is a great time for parents to visit students at our campus in Idaho.

  5. What is the daily schedule like?

    One of the strengths of being a small, independent school is the ability to have a flexible schedule that adapts to our environment as we explore different “classrooms.” While no day at the Alzar School is typical, a day at our Idaho campus might look something like this: 7:10 - 7:40 AM - Breakfast: Eat family style with the community. Breakfast is prepared by rotating cook crews made up of students and staff. Today, omelets and fruit salad are being served. 7:50 - 8:30 AM - Math: Work on your math skills in a small group setting. There are different levels available to meet the needs of most sophomores and juniors.  Apply what you learn to real life situations. 8:30 - 9:10 AM - Independent Study period: Each day, students have one or two independent study periods.  This time gives them the opportunity to work on assignments and projects throughout the school day, and is similar to the unstructured time found in a college schedule (making for great practice for life after high school). 9:15 - 10:10 AM - Science: Several different science courses are available each semester. Today you head down to the river to study macro-invertebrates and their life cycles. 10:15 - 11:15 AM - English: In English, you look at how Latin American writers have influenced contemporary novelists in the United States. You’ve been reading My Invented Country and have selected passages to share. 11:20 AM - 12:20 PM - History: Today, you review the history of the colonization of Chile in preparation for your six-week expedition later in the semester.  The Alzar School offers US and World History courses. 12:20 - 1:00 PM - Lunch: Again, head to the dining hall to grab a healthy lunch. You snag a deli sandwich and a side salad. Since it is a nice fall day, you decide to eat out on our porch overlooking Snowbank Mountain. 1:05 - 2:05 PM - Capstone Leadership Course: You and your classmates are researching effective leaders throughout history. You present on Ernest Shackleton’s incredible task of keeping all his men alive while stranded in the Antarctic ice. 2:10 - 3:10 PM - Spanish: Expand your vocabulary in anticipation of the upcoming expedition to Chile. Today, you focus on terms dealing with the river and kayaking because you’ll soon be teaching Chilean children about river safety. 3:30 - 6:00 PM - Afternoon activity: Participate in local community service, go kayaking at the whitewater park just 3 miles upstream, or practice an instrument. 6:00 - 6:30 PM - Community tasks: Help out around school to keep the community running smoothly. There are several different rotations, but today your job is to restock firewood for the many fireplaces and wood-burning stoves around campus. 6:30 - 7:15 - Dinner: Last meal of the day! Enjoy homemade enchiladas and a bowl of ice cream. It’s getting cool out, so there is a fire in the dining hall’s stone fireplace. 7:30 - 9:15 - Study hall: Spend the evening keeping up with your out-of-class work. Find a quiet nook in the library or loft to get the practice in that you need.  A proctor is available to help you if you run into questions. 9:30 PM - Return to student yurts: Relax in your student yurt. Put the finishing touches on any homework and gear up for another day at the Alzar School!

  6. What is the school calendar like for the upcoming school year?

    To get a sense of the semester calendar, please see this Calendar Overview.  Please keep in mind that this basic schedule is subject to change.  Exact dates will be available as we get closer to the start of the school year.

Tuition & Scholarships

  1. How much does a semester at the Alzar School cost?

    Tuition, room, and board for the 2015-2016 school year is $24,950 (USD). You will be asked to pay a non-refundable deposit of $2,500 upon acceptance and return of the Initial Registration Form. This deposit is applied to the cost of tuition.  The remainder of the tuition will be due 30 days before the 1st day of your semester. Besides tuition, room, and board, there are several other expenses you should be aware of. We ask that you set up a student account with us to cover these expenses, with an initial deposit of $3,350.  This deposit will be used towards transportation between our Idaho campus and Chile and for necessary supplies and equipment. We realize that attending the Alzar School requires a significant financial commitment on the part of your family. It is our goal to make these semesters available to as many deserving students as possible. We have several financial aid options available. Without financial aid, you can plan to invest roughly $28,900 in your semester at the Alzar School.

  2. Are there any scholarships available?

    There is financial aid available for prospective students. When you complete your application for admission to the school, you will also be given the option to apply for financial aid.  If accepted to the Alzar School, you will also learn of any financial aid award that we can give you.

  3. What is the Jean Bierle Scholarship Initiative?

    In 2007, the Alzar School created the Jean Bierle Scholarship Initiative as an effort to engage young women from the developing countries we visit in leadership training.  It is very rare in Chile or Mexico (or many countries outside of the US) for women to participate in outdoor activities.  These young women benefit greatly from the boosts in confidence that climbing a mountain or exploring a river can provide.  The fund was named after Jean Bierle, an avid Alzar School supporter who exemplifies the spirit of adventure we hope to instill in the recipients of this scholarship.  The fund has provided scholarships for 11 young women to date.

Outdoor Program
  1. What kind of outdoor activities are available at the Alzar School?

    Our campus is located on the North Fork of the Payette River, just over 2 miles downstream from the world-class Kelly's Whitewater Park and 7 miles upstream from the Class II-III Cabarton Section. Students live within an hour of two ski resorts where they can explore some of Idaho's great powder. They will also spend an extended period of time in Chile, which provides the majestic Andes for mountain sports and the mighty Pacific for ocean sports. Students learn to backpack, kayak, raft, climb, surf, and more.

  2. Are outdoor adventure activities dangerous?

    Outdoor adventure sports do come with inherent risks.  However, through proper training, coaching, and development of judgement, you can learn to manage risks.  Alzar School students participate in wilderness first aid training, swiftwater rescue training, and learn to evaluate real vs. perceived risk and to weigh risk vs. consequences.  The school's goal is to help students become lifetime outdoor enthusiasts who can recreate responsibly and respond to emergencies in the field.

  3. How does the Alzar School handle medical emergencies?

    The well-being of our students and staff is a priority that we take very seriously.  The Alzar School employs teachers and instructors who meet or exceed industry standards when it comes to first aid. As a minimum, our teachers have a Wilderness First Responder certification. Additionally, we have several MDs and PAs on our Board/Advisory Committee, who review our medical and emergency protocols. The school has a set of risk management protocols which are regularly practiced and reviewed.

  4. What rivers does the Alzar School explore?

    The Alzar School is fortunate to be able to explore rivers in California, Idaho, and Chile. Whitewater paddling composes a big part of our outdoor program.  Each of these rivers have everything from Class I for our beginners to Class IV for our experts.  We break into groups based on skill. In California, we sometimes explore the Klamath River, Cal Salmon River, Trinity River, and Clear Creek.  We operate on special use permits from the Klamath and Shasta-Trinity National Forests.  In Idaho, we will be on the Main Payette River, South Fork Payette River, North Fork Payette River (above the Class V section), Salmon River, Owyhee River, and Snake River (Hagerman - Bliss).  We operate on special use permits from Boise National Forest.  In Chile, we explore the Rio Claro, Rio Teno, Rio Achibueno, Rio Nuble, Rio Fuy, Rio Trancura, Rio Luicura, Rio San Pedro, and Rio Claro (Siete Tazas).

  5. How often will students participate in outdoor activities?

    Regularly!  From the door of the yurts, students can embark on a 3 mile snowshoe hike in the winter or work on your kayak roll in the river just 200 yards away.  Each semester features extended trips in Idaho, around the West, and in Chile.  As a school, we take multi-day river trips, backpack into remote lakes, and work as a team to summit peaks.  As students gain leadership expertise, they can expect to shoulder more and more responsibility for these expeditions, learning to pick routes, plan and organize meals, and set itineraries.

  6. What gear/equipment do students need?

    With so many great outdoor sports to participate in, there is a lot of gear used. The Alzar School will provide some of the necessary equipment, but there are certain items that you will need to acquire. See this packing list to get an idea of what students will need to bring with them.  Check out the Equipment + Rental & Purchase Program.

Cultural Exchange

  1. How long will we be out of the country?

    Each semester, students spend about 5-6 weeks on an international expedition to Chile. This gives you enough time to get a solid feel for the local culture, sample the cuisine, and make meaningful friendships.

  2. Why do we go to Chile?

    The administrators of the Alzar School have been working in Chile since 2001.  The Alzar School's first program there was in 2007.  The Alzar School returns to Chile each year because it offers an amazing classroom for our students.  To begin with, the culture is warm and inviting and its government and economy are stable.  Students can practice their Spanish as they make life-long friends.  The history of the country is fascinating, from the pre-colonial Mapuche, to Charles Darwin's explorations, to the Pinochet era.  Its geology and geography provide endless lessons.  Chile offers the Alzar School an unbeatable opportunity to explore a different country, one that is in many ways extremely different from the United States, but shares many values in common.

  3. Where do we stay while in Chile? What is student life like there?

    Chile is a long, magnificent country and we do our best to expose students to as much of the country and culture as possible while keeping you on track with your academic courses.  The school also travels together, sometimes camping in the Andes, sometimes renting cabanas at the beach. For approximately 3 weeks, the school bases out of Choshuenco and Neltume, small towns in Chile's Lake District. The extended time in one community allows students to really get to know the area and local culture. During the time in Chile, there is some internet access, but it can be irregular. Students continue to have regular classes, but afternoons are spent both exploring the Andes and participating in cultural activities (such as shopping in a Chilean market, volunteering at a small orphanage, etc).

  4. Do students have to be fluent in Spanish?

    No! Students can join the Alzar School with no previous Spanish education. Immersion is by far the most fun and effective way to learn a language. The Alzar School’s teachers will help students build their vocabulary, and then students work towards mastery in authentic situations (like when they try to buy syrup at a Chilean market!).