As the students enjoy the last few days of their expeditions in Patagonia, Anita thought it would be nice to share a bit about the history and creation of the National Park our students explore.
Spanning from the eastern beech forests of the Andes Mountains to the western arid grasslands of the Patagonian steppe, Valle Chacabuco is a transitional ecosystem that forms the heart of the newly formed Parque Patagonia. Students at the Alzar School spend two weeks in this area. They explore the vast wilderness of Patagonia’s iconic granite spires and the meandering glacial waters of the Rio Baker. Located deep in southern Chile, Valle Chacabuco remained largely unexplored throughout Spanish colonization. As late 19th century explorers trekked steadily south, the resources of these remote areas were documented and soon exploited. As early as 1908, large-scale sheep and cattle ranching operations were established in Valle Chacabuco. Despite government re-appropriation of lands to agricultural elite and the steady degeneration of grazing lands, ranching remained a driving force in the area’s economy up until the early 2000’s.
In 1995, Doug and Kris Tompkins, founders of Patagonia clothing brand and avid conservationists, visited Valle Chacabuco hearing stories of how the rich habitats of this area naturally support a high level of biodiversity. Kris recalls her visit in a blog post, A History of Valle Chacabuco:
"When I drove through the Chacabuco Valley for the first time, I saw the extra-high ‘guanaco fences’ designed to keep these first-rate jumpers out of the best bottom grasslands, which were reserved for the cattle on the estancia. My eyes glazed over looking out on the tens of thousands of sheep grazing the bunch grasses up and down the valley. The grasses looked patchy and dead. Nothing left for wildlife."
The guanaco, a llama relative, is a keystone species in the region and have adapted to the harsh conditions of the high steppe. They roam freely, revitalizing native vegetation and providing food for predators. This area is also home to some of South America’s most endangered species such as giant anteaters, culpeo fox, pumas, and hairy armadillos. Realizing the ecological significance and the conservation potential of the region, Kris founded Conservacion Patagonica in 2000 with a mission, according to their website, of “building new national parks in compelling, ecologically critical areas of Patagonia.”
Since it’s inception, Conservacion Patagonica has acquired large swaths of formerly ranched land and are working to restore and link contiguous natural habitats in Argentinean and Chilean Patagonia. Once complete, Parque Patagonia will become a Chilean national park and span an area roughly the size of Oregon State. Through the acquisition of former ranching lands, extensive ecological restoration efforts and the eventual donation of these areas back to government states, Conservacion Patagonica is making an impact and setting precedent for large-scale land conservation across the globe. Read more about Conservacion Patagonica and the history of Parque Patagonia. Photos courtesy of Parque Patagonia website.
Turning leaves and falling temperatures elicit mixed emotions for me. I grew up in New England farm country; crisp hayrides and the crunch of leaves underfoot harken back to a childhood dominated by seasonality. Having spent 13 months of the last three years in the southern hemisphere, I'm craving a full calendar year in one place--preferably one with vibrant foliage, copious mud, and snow measured by the foot. In some ways, though, I’ve adopted a new form of seasonality: one dominated by cultural shifts rather than climatic ones. Three days to go before our semester leaves for southern Chile, I find myself reflecting on how much our lives change in mid-October--and how much stays constant.
Each semester, our school spends three weeks in our adopted homes of Choshuenco and Neltume: small villages in the shadow of an active, snow-capped volcanoes. Students split time between the two towns, taking half of their classes in each town. Teachers get an extended block schedule to delve deeper into their curriculum, and the whole community gets the unique opportunity to live, shop, play and learn in a place quite different than their own. We ask a great deal of our students in Chile. Non-traditional classrooms require driven students, and so much of the learning happens outside of the classroom. Everyday tasks like ordering dinner go from routine interactions to an authentic learning opportunity.
For their part, our students are characteristically eager for a new set of challenges. Shirley, from Westwood, Massachusetts, finds consistency in the community of learners surrounding her: “My whole idea of Alzar was that it didn’t matter where we were, we were going to be learning anyways… I wanted to get as much in as possible it made a lot of sense that I would move around a little bit.” Shirley is worried about the block classes: “I’m not good at staying focused, so 80 minute blocks might be hard, but we’ll see.” If the past two months are any judge, I think Shirley will do just fine.
As our time in the Lake District comes to a close, we have traveled 5 hours south to embark on our final Chilean expeditions. Our time in the Lake District was split up between the students focusing on cultural exchange and improving their technical kayak skills.
For some of the students, this is their first time in a foreign country and also their first time in a kayak. Skills in both of these are built by a progression; for example, in the student’s Spanish A classes, they learned vocabulary appropriate for the environment that they were in. When we were flying into Santiago, the students were learning airplane vocabulary and words that they would need in order to travel through an airport.
Students of all levels of Spanish speaking ability have had room to grow and improve; not just the beginners. Through conversational challenges in the towns and interacting with the locals in soccer games, students have been pushed out of their comfort zones in order to improve their fluency. Both beginner and advanced students need a foundation of basic skill that they can build upon in order to improve overall.
Like this progression of confidence in a foreign language, the students who were new to kayaking also needed to start from a foundation of skill in order to grow. Students in Choshuenco spent time practicing the basic paddle strokes of kayaking on the flat water of the lake before going out on the white water of the Rio Fue and the Enco. Students also learned how to safely exit a kayak and some mastered their roll.
These past few weeks in the Lake District of Chile have been essential in the progression of the students’ confidence in cultural exchange as well as their confidence on the water. These skills are not learned and perfected overnight; it takes time to build upon past experiences in order to master a certain amount of expertise in these skills.
This final expedition on the Petrohue River challenges students to use the basic skills they have learned on the lake and rivers in Choshuenco. This river is larger and faster than what they have been training on, and will help them further improve their skills for the waters of Idaho.
I know that this growth is only the beginning for these students, with both kayaking and Spanish speaking. Students will continue to learn not only in their Spanish classes, but also on the water in Idaho. Chile has been just a glimpse of what these students are capable of; I look forward to continue to watch them exceed my expectations.
Here is a video summing up our highlights in Choshuenco and Neltume!
In Leadership class this semester students have been analyzing their own leadership styles, personality types, and communication techniques. They have built "hard" (technical) and "soft" (interpersonal) skills and received effective peer feedback on their performances as designated leaders. Using the Alzar School's "10 Elements of Leadership" as a vocabulary for self-analysis, students have looked at patterns in their feedback and identified their strengths and continued areas for growth. Finally, they identified goals for personal growth as leaders in the rest of their semesters.
Lately, students compiled this information in a reflective "Profile of Self as Leader" blog. See a few featured profiles of the brave leaders of 2015 below!
Top 3 strengths
- Community Membership & Service- I really enjoy working with my community so I think it is very important to have a strong bond with them. I always try to have a positive attitude in whatever activity we are doing. I like being able to have a strong relationship with my community and being able to think of them as my family.
2 Areas for growth
- Communication Skills- While I do a good job of voicing my opinion in group discussions I need to do a better job of communicating to the group I am leading and to the other leaders and staff. There were many times when half of the group I was leading didn't know what we were going to do because I didn't come and talk to them personally. I need to do a better job of informing each individual person on what is happening and if anything changes make sure to relay that information to them.
- 360 Thinking- When it comes to 360 thinking I think I do a good job at being able to prioritize problems and solutions, but I have a hard time making decisions. I am the type of person who evaluates all my options and that is why it takes me so long to make a decision. I also don't want the decision I make to have a negative effect on anyone in the group.
My Personality Quadrant: Spontaneous Motivator
My personality quadrant is spontaneous motivator. Being a spontaneous motivator comes with a lot of positivity. Spontaneous motivators are great at voicing their ideas and supplying passion to those ideas. They are good at having energetic conversations with other group members and they are "great at motivating people as they possess a sense of mission or vision." There are some things that can be slight down falls to being a spontaneous motivator. First they can be emotionally attached to their ideas and they can create a highly emotional climate if they put too much emphasis on challenging others.
My Leadership Style: Democratic
I am a democratic leader in that I try to share the decision making process with other members of the group so that everyone will be happy when the decision gets made. This leadership style tends to create a higher productivity and increases the group morale. Being a democratic leader ties into my personality quadrant which is spontaneous motivator. In both roles of being a leader I am trying to keep my followers in high spirits and get their input on what we are doing. The downside of having a democratic leadership style is that the decision making process tends to be a slow and long process, but at the end when we make a decision and my followers are happy my goal will be complete.
What happened. What I learned.
We were in Chile hiking out of the the Cochamo Valley from a 5 day backpacking trip when we came to a river. It had been raining all that day so the river had gotten higher and we couldn't cross at the exact spot where we had crossed the first day. I was leader of the day along with Lily and Madison. We were trying to figure out how to get across, they thought we should just go the way we came the first day because our feet were already soaked it didn't matter if they got wetter. I asked the group what they wanted to do and I got many different answers; some people didn't care, some didn't want their feet wet and others just didn't participate.
One of the girls and I went farther up the stream to see if there was a dryer way to get across. We found a spot that had lots of rocks and we would be able to get across without getting our feet wet. When I went back down and told the rest of the girls, some of them didn't seem too enthusiastic about it.
The end result was some girls followed Madison and just walked in the water, some found their own way, and some followed me on the more technical path that kept people's feet dry. What I learned from this and hope to grow from is that I need to make decisions faster and when I make a decision I need to make sure the other leaders are apart of that decision making process. If I make a decision I need to stick to that decision and make sure that the other members of the group respect my decision and follow it.
Goals for the rest of the semester
As I lead throughout the rest of the semester I really want to focus on the places that I need to improve on. Specifically on my decision making and communication to the group.
I am taking the first step in doing this by voicing the schedule to the entire group ( including parents,staff, and students) throughout this weekend. This weekend I need to make sure everyone in the group hears the information because the plan could get disorganized if it is not understood. By the end of Alzar I want everyone in the group to be annoyed by my voice because they have heard it so often.
Top three strengths from ten elements:
- personal leadership and follow-through - I aim to positively influence my peers by leading a good example for them. In other words, I try to do my best in academics, challenge myself physically, and keep myself organized in order to be a productive part of my community.
- community membership and service - In order to make this community function, I understand the importance of support for my friends and teachers here at Alzar. Since we live, travel, learn, and work together my relationships at Alzar are of the utmost importance to me, and I work every day to deepen the bonds with my friends.
- character - I strive to be an open, honest, and positive person. I always try to be my best self and improve my character in areas that may need growth.
top two areas of growth from the ten elements:
- communication - While I try to communicate with my peers when I am in a leadership position, I think that I need to make more of an attempt to clearly communicate my ideas to the whole group so that there is no confusion. Also, I think that I need to improve my communication skills with my fellow leader(s) so I am not the only one aware of the plan or vice versa.
- inspiring vision - While I do try to lead by example, I think I could try to inspire and motivate my peers more often. I want for my friends to see me in a leadership position and be energized by my enthusiasm and attitude.
My personal quadrant - Relationship Master
Out of the four separate quadrants, I identify as a relationship master. I am good at building my community and keeping this tight knit group together. I also love to work on a team and to hear the ideas of all of my teammates, sometimes before my own. I value what my peers have to say and I take into account their opinions before making decisions. Sometimes, since my relationships are so important to me, it is hard for me to make decisions quickly and efficiently. It is also difficult for me to make a decision if it has the potential of endangering my friendship with someone.
My Leadership Style: Democratic and People-oriented
I use the democratic leadership style often when I am trying to make an informed decision while simultaneously acknowledging the opinions of others. I don't think that it is necessarily fair for one leader to make the decisions all of the time without asking how everyone else feels. Because I focus a lot of my energy on my community, I would also consider myself people-oriented. I am curious daily about how everyone is doing and I try to have a good understanding of the stance of the group as a whole.
A moment of growth:
It was day four of five in our Cóchamo backpacking trip when the babe squad decided to tackle a tedious hike to a beautiful lake nestled between the cliff faces of two mountains. After hours and hours of hiking we finally reached this surreal lake. At this point my body was about ready to plop on the nearest flat rock I could find, but it miraculously didn't. Ellie asked us if anyone wanted to go the extra mile, literally, and try to make it to the summit of the mountain. Even though I am scared of heights, was obscenely hungry, and my legs were trembling, some piece of me wanted to keep going. This was the first moment of this hike where I think I grew. I realized that I needed to take advantage of every opportunity I received in the Patagonia.
Anyways, once I made this decision we starting hiking off trail up a unstable creek bed. My breaths got heavier and heavier each time my ankle slipped on a wobbly rock. After about forty five minutes we stopped. I could see the peak hanging about 100 ft away from me, but I couldn't reach it. We realized that there was no way to get to the top with the route that we took. At first I was so frustrated. I had just practically killed myself trying to get to this summit and I wasn't going to make it. Though, what I realized is that I had made it. Sure I did not summit the mountain, but I was still successful.
I had a sudden anagnorisis where I realized that success is relative and personal. It was a moment of growth because I finally accepted the fact that I was good enough and that I didn't have to reach the top of that mountain in order to prove that to myself. I found my trail name "stone summit".
Articulation of Growth Plan: Goals for rest of semester as leader.
How am I going to get there?
During the rest of the semester I want to focus on acquiring some characteristics from the "driver" quadrant of leadership. For example, I want to learn how to make decisions quickly and efficiently. To make this happen, I will not procrastinate my decision making. Also, I would like to have a stronger voice as a leader. While I think my ideas are valuable, I could be more direct in expressing them to my community. To do this, I will try to have better communication with the leaders and my community.
Top three strengths from 10 elements of leadership:
Resiliency and Resourcefulness:
I make sure to keep an open mind whenever approaching a new situation. If a problem does arises, I do a good job of keeping calm and confident while i access the issue. My enthusiasm and optimism makes the experiences much more enjoyable for myself and those around me.
I am well attuned to my own abilities and the needs of my group. For example I know that my kayaking skills are limited, but I do not let this stop me from challenging my self. By paying attention to the group moral, I am able to motivate them if needed, and assess if they will enjoy certain activities.
I do a good of time management and using my study halls throughout the day effectively so that I can complete all of homework in a timely manner. I also strive to prepare well for expeditions and pack the right kind of clothing.
Top two weaknesses from 10 elements of leadership:
One of the aspects of communication that I need to work on is making sure that their is a constant flow of information between the students, the teachers, and the LOD's. This is very important because everyone should have the same correct information of the day's plan and if there are any questions the LOD's should be able to answer them.
360 Degree Thinking:
When problem solving and working with a group to come up with a solution I need to work on voicing my own opinions and thoughts. While I tend to lead by example, it is important for me to take another step beyond this and have the courage to defend my ideas and make sure that my voice is heard.
My Personal Quadrant + explanation: Architect/ Analysis
I embody the architect/analysis leadership quadrant, because I prefer to have all of the information I can before making a decision. I am good at observing the situation and environment when there is a problem or decision to make and building an opinion and hypothesis off of all the information I can acquire. I am good at taking past experiences and my opinions and forming them into creative ideas.
My leadership Style: People-Oriented/Transformational
One of my leadership styles is people oriented because the group dynamic is very important to me. And I make sure that everyone in the community I am leading has the opportunity to voice their opinions. I do not want to make a decision as a leader that only a few people agree on, it is important to hear everyone's voice so that if a compromise needs to be made, it can be.
As a leader I know that I can benefit the group, but I also still have a lot to learn. I make sure to keep an open mind to others opinions and readily accept constructive criticism, especially when being debriefed after a Leader of the Day experience. This feedback mean a lot to me, because it makes me aware of how the group has reacted to my leadership. This makes me think about choices I made and things I can improve on. This way I can not only help the group to grow, but the group can also help me grow.
Moment of growth/learning as a leaders:
Metta, Chris, and I were the first leaders of the day, and we were chosen to take charge a few days into the Río Petruey kayaking expedition. Being the first group of LODs we were not exactly sure of everything that we had to have control of. For example we had to make sure that all the correct boats, kayaks, paddles, lunch supplies and all other logistics were taken care of.
The day ran relatively smoothly and our planning the night before payed off. We started the morning working on technical skills in the kayaks and rafts. The. After lunch we spent the afternoon kayaking and rafting down the river. The view was amazing as Metta and I attacked each rapid in the shredder.
Once we arrived at our take out, I made sure that we were getting all the gear pack onto the trailer as quickly as possible so that we would have more time in town. I suddenly realized that two of the teachers, Austin and Ned, were not with us. I quickly deduced that they had continued kayaking down the river. I was very embarrassed, because I had forgotten to talk to them about when they planned to stop kayaking and where they wanted to be picked up. Being the LOD everyone looked to me and my partners for the plan. At this point I was unable to decide if and when we were gonna pick up the two remaining kayakers and who would be running the shuttle when the students were walking around town. I vividly remember Sean asking me when Austin and Ned needed to be picked up and the panic I felt when I was unable to answer this question. This lack of prior communication created many new unexpected complications.
This experience showed to me the importance of communication and to know where everyone is and what their own plans are, especially if they differ from the groups. The whole community and especially the leaders need to be on the same page so that everything will function smoothly. Thankfully, some of the other teachers knew their plan and we were able to schedule when to pick them up, and the rest of the day finished uneventfully.
Articulation of Growth Plan: Goals for rest of semester as leader. How am I going to get there?
My leadership goal for the rest of the semester is to work on trying out different leadership styles other than the architect and analysis quadrant. I can do this by making sure that I have a strong voice in group discussions and not letting others overpower my opinion. I have to be confident when speaking in group, so that I can participate even more and see how the community reacts to my opinions.
On our recent trek through the Cochamó valley, students gathered each night after dinner to receive the next day’s plan from the designated student leaders. We had hiked over seven miles to reach the floor of the Cochamó valley, an impressive meadow at the base of imposing granite. On one particular evening, Alton of Atlanta, GA and Austin of McCall, ID announced we would be venturing deep into Trinidad, a glacial cirque of steep rock walls, and a true sight to be seen. Behind this plan was careful consideration of different options for the day’s activity, and close attention paid to the needs of the group. The leader team for that day ruled out riskier hikes up La Paloma and Arco Iris in favor of the scenic views and relative challenge afforded by the trek into Trinidad. With respect to the group, our leaders recognized that some of our members were feeling ill and needed a day of rest and appropriately decided that our adventure would be a day hike, and that we would return to our campsite in the valley that evening. Our arduous climb to the top of Trinidad was rewarded with panoramic views of the Andean spine, and general sense of accomplishment among the members of our group.
Such a sensation would not have been possible without implementing the school’s decision-making model, which was introduced during our designated hour of leadership class the day prior.
International travel provides an abundance of teachable moments. Some are foreseeable—we ask students to use their time in Chile to develop their Spanish language skills through conversational challenges—while others are unpredictable, effectively enhancing this unique experience that the Alzar School affords. In our recent paddling expedition, our staff team had to make a decision about where to take our students to develop their paddling skills. Initially, we were intending to paddle the Río Puelo, but had to consider other options after we learned that transportation was limited to the length of the river we wanted to use. Demonstrating the model of decision-making we in turn taught to our students, we decided that the Río Petrohue would suit our needs, be more accessible and provide an equal if not better alternative to our previous plans. Here at Alzar School we develop leaders twofold: by modeling good practice, and arming them with the tools and skills to grow.
Through this decision, we were awarded with a campsite on the shore of Lago Todos los Santos and the opportunity to paddle down Chile’s first federally protected river! Views of volcanoes abounded as we swept down playful rapids in the company of giant Chilean salmon.