Alumna in Action- Founding an Outdoor Club in the Sierras

Anna, an alumna from Tuolumne County, CA returned from her spring 2017 semester with Alzar School determined to stay involved in the outdoors.  Furthermore, Anna wanted to share the many wonderful opportunities being at the gateway to Yosemite provides to more people in her community.  Anna identified that while her community had so much to offer, many had never hiked, camped, or explored the beautiful places that surround her town. 

A junior in high school, Anna is supplementing her curriculum with classes at the community college and decided that she would start an outdoor club at Columbia College.  She found a few people who were also interested in the outdoors and submitted an application to formally charter the club through the school.  Once sanctioned, Anna hosted a booth at club day to find others who were interested in exploring the outdoors.  From there, she initiated camping trips, graffiti clean-up days, and climbing trips.  She has plans for fundraising activities so the program can begin to acquire gear and club members can participate in a wilderness first aid course.

We are proud of Anna's ability to turn ideas into action and find a way to work with the structure of the organizations of which she belongs to create the outcomes she desires.  We know this skill will continue to serve Anna and her communities well.  

You can read more about Anna's project and watch a quick video here.




Patagonia National Park: A Milestone for Chile

‘Why Chile?’ we are often asked. The Alzar School returns to Chile each semester because it offers an amazing classroom for our students. Traveling to South America, students are met with a warm and welcoming culture that allows them to practice their Spanish speaking skills and make connections with locals. Beyond these wonderful people and cultures (stay tuned for a blog post about the Mapuche people,) Chile’s expansive geography and rich history provide endless lessons. Exploring Chilean Patagonia, in particular, gives our students a first-hand perspective on the contemporary and universal issue of land conservation. And this spring, Alzar School students are lucky to experience a historical moment for Chile and for the world.

On January 29, 2018, Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, President and CEO of Tompkins Conservation, came together to form five new national parks in Chile and expand three others. After decades of planning, restoration and negotiations (read more about the history of Patagonia Park,) the Chilean government and Tompkins Conservation have formalized the world's largest expansion of a national park system through the donation of private land!

Kristine overlooking Patagonia National Park. Photo courtesy of National Geographic Photographer, Jimmy Chin. Check out and follow Jimmy Chin’s, Instagram feed (@jimmy_chin) for more recent photos of the Patagonia National Park.

The recent donation from Tompkins Foundation of over 1 million acres marks a momentous milestone for conservation and sets a president for private organizations. With this latest donation, Kristine, her late husband, Doug, and their foundation have helped to conserve more than 13 million acres of unique ecosystems in Argentina and Chile. In Chile alone, these newly formed parks will cover more than three times the area of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined, roughly the size of Switzerland. 

In her recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Kristine explains the motivation behind their conservation efforts. “We believe that the transfer of private lands to the national park system is an act of democracy. A country’s natural masterpieces are best held and protected by the public for the common good. They should be available to all people to enjoy, to remember that they are part of something much larger than themselves. National parks, monuments and other public lands remind us that regardless of race, economic standing or citizenship, we all depend on a healthy planet for our survival.”

Alzar School students will continue to trek through the natural wonders of the new Patagonia National Park this week, taking in views of expansive valleys, glaciated mountains and, roaming wildlife. As they explore these far reaches of the world they will also gain a lesson in the value of natural environments and the roles in which governments, private foundations and they themselves can plan in preserving and maintaining wild spaces.  

Ski Days

Nestled in the heart of Idaho’s west-central mountains, the Alzar School’s unique location lends the opportunity to explore pristine and vast natural environments in a manner of ways. Our 100+ acre campus is located along the Payette River. Just 3 miles downstream from Kelly’s Whitewater Park and a geothermally heated pool, students can practice their kayaking skills almost year round. The Alzar School is also surrounded by the Payette and Boise National Forests which lends ample opportunities to hike high mountain trails and camp alongside backcountry lakes. This upcoming weekend students have the chance to explore a bit more of Idaho - not kayaking or backpacking, but on skis and snowboards!

There are two ski areas, Tamarack Ski Resort and Brundage Mountain Resort, located within an hour’s drive of the Alzar School. With an average annual snowfall of over 11 feet, this region provides amazing snow, diverse terrain and short lift lines that come with small-town mountain resorts. These factors combined, make Tamarack and Brundage ideal for students to learn on and explore a few times each semester. On ski days, all Alzar School students, regardless of skill level, take a short lesson. Whether it is linking turns on the beginner hill or finding a powder stash in the trees, students of all abilities tend to have a blast on these family-friendly mountains. Skiing and snowboarding with the Alzar School provides students with the chance to try a new sport or hone existing skills, sliding along with teachers and peers amidst the beauty of Idaho’s winter.

Spanish Conversational Challenges

Update: By popular demand, here is the recipe Sam used. 

We have all encountered a situation where learning something new seemed utterly tedious. At the Alzar School, we help students engage in their studies by crafting curriculum and assignments to accommodate various interests and passions. For some, learning Spanish, or any language for that matter does not come naturally. Through conversational challenges in Chile, students are giving the opportunity to tailor their Spanish lessons to their interests. The power of learning and cultural exchange combine as we watch students use the Spanish language to communicate about their passions, drawing upon schema, prior knowledge, and experiences, to connect with local Chileans.

As an avid chef and baker, Sam found his Spanish learning nitch in a Chilean kitchen. Sam first approached Veronica and Joanna, the women who serve and cook our meals in Choshuenco, with a conversational challenge to learn the Spanish word for “measuring cup.” This initial conversation left Sam wondering if he would be able to use their kitchen to bake. So, he asked and they agreed. Deciding upon a dessert for the group, Sam shared his recipe for donut muffins with Veronica and Joanna. Together they worked through the ingredients, quantities, and instructions in Spanish. Sam remembers feeling more comfortable trying out new vocabulary and tenses with Veronica and Joanna “because we were in their homes” and in the familiar space of the kitchen. Throughout their baking conversations, Sam learned new vocabulary such as “moleda” meaning “powdered, “nuez moscada” or “nutmeg”, and “Imperial” which is the Chilean brand of and cultural reference for “baking soda”. Needless to say, the donut muffins were a hit! Constructing his conversational challenge around his passion in the kitchen, Sam was able to get far more out of his Spanish lesson in Chile all while making new friends.


Faculty, Many Thanks

With Thanksgiving Day nearly upon us, we’d like to take the time to recognize and honor our hard-working faculty. Each day at the Alzar School presents certain challenges. From coordinating dietary needs at breakfast, to helping a struggling student work through a math problem, to changing a flat tire on a dirt road in Chile, our teaching staff are amazingly flexible, understanding and resilient individuals. They are the keystone of an Alzar School education.

The Alzar School academic faculty have a passion for education, the outdoors and helping young leaders reach their potential. Over the course of an Alzar School semester, our nine teachers and five teaching fellows spend countless hours planning and executing meaningful lessons for our students. With small classes, teachers are able to individualize student education based on interests and learning styles. Outdoor adventure isn’t just taught at the Alzar School, it is embraced by all. In their free time, faculty can be found anywhere from rafting the Grand Canyon, to trekking through rural eastern Europe, following adventure wherever it takes them. In addition, our teachers often put their personal lives on hold to dedicate time to students. Alzar School faculty are a unique group of educators in that they travel and live alongside students. They help cultivate lasting relationships with their mentees and can remain present in students' lives into college and beyond. As alumnus Isaac reflected, “Our teachers at Alzar [School] were our mentors, were our, and are our, friends. Because of that relationship, I was so much more invested in learning and growing academically.” Our teaching faculty truly are incredible people.

As our students and faculty return from their adventures in Chile this week, we hope they get to spend quality time with family and friends. We are beyond grateful for the dedication and amazing work our faculty does to help the Alzar School build young leaders and wish them the very best this Thanksgiving.

Read more about the Alzar School faculty and teaching fellows.