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.




What is the Alzar School?

I get asked this simple (not so simple) question multiple times a week. It is a natural follow-up question to the "Where do you work?" question that is so prevalent in our culture. And every time I try to answer, I find myself stuttering, spluttering, racking my brain for a better way to put words to the very thing that I spend my days doing. The fact of the matter, is that the Alzar School is no one thing.  It is a school, a community, a support system, a haven. It is an adventure, a challenge, a reward, and a mystery - even to the people who know it most intimately. It is a place where connections form, growth is fostered, and new experiences are infinite. It is a place where education is not always synonymous with a four-walled classroom, and a place where time spent in the wilderness is valued.

And still, it is more. It is an experience - a way of living. And the people who can best explain what the Alzar School is, are the people who are living it. Who make it what it is: a place where I am proud to work.

In Leadership Class, students were tasked to video their "Elevator Pitch", to explain the Alzar School, and these four current students captured it beautifully.

Meet the Leaders of Spring 2015

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!

blogger-image-1751203575  Metta Bracht-Bedell       Spring 2015

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.


blogger-image-1482902890Emma Smith                     Spring 2015

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.


blogger-image-1474871347Pedro Lavín         Spring 2015

Top three strengths from 10 elements
1. 360 degrees thinking: During all my LOD experiences, I have been in the correct page of all what is going on during the day. Trying always to know what is happening, and the available resources that I could use for taking desitions.
2. Communication skills: I have been assertively practicing my English since my first day at Alzar School and the improvement in noticeable.  I am confident I will leave the semester feeling very confident in my ability to communicate in my second language.
3. Accurate awareness: I recognice when I have the abilities needed for making some tasks, but also when I don't have them, and I am not afraid about asking for help. For example, the first time I used the whisper light in Cochamó, I asked Tova how to do it.
Top 2 areas for growth from 10 elements
1. Continual learning and improvement: I hadn't a list of what to improve until a few hours ago (April 8th), I should make an effort to improve in other minor defects. Any way, now I know what to do, I have a list and I will make an effort to complete it.
2. Inspiring vision: I haven't been an inspiring leader, and this is a product of my little effort to lead with example. Also, when deliberating the information I do not put enough enthusiasm. But this has a positive side, as people don't really expect something good, when the activity is acceptable, the people thinks that it is really good.
My Personality Quadrant
I embody driver quadrant (I don't really feel like a driver), this means that I would be a information giver, and a decision maker. But I should have some problems to set interpersonal relationship, not only with my peers, but with my followers.
My Leadership style
It is burocratic, a mixture between autocratic and democratic. I like this type of leadership because the decision making represents the idea of at least a portion of the group, but do not take as long as asking everybody, what is their opinion for take a decision.
Moment of Learning
It was our fourth day in Cochamó, and after a four hours, we finally arrived to the little lake that was in the middle of the hike. I remember we were discussing about if continue to se the next valley or just staying there. Finally we went to see the next valley, this showed me how important for a leader is that his followers really want to help and give their best when needed.
The same day, a few hours later, I understood the beauty and power of nature. After six hours of hiking, we finally arrived to the top of the mountain, and we could see both sides. In my left, I had Trinidad valley and Chile, and on my right I had Argentina. From that point, I could see millions of trees, enormous garnet mountains and much more impressive things, such us a little fall or  just the enormous cliff I had a few meters from me. This moment of that was a mixture between magic, nature and peace, I realice how much I like working with the group I was leading, for letting me arrive to that place, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, but also make me understand that not always the people will be so energetic and proactive, and that probably sometimes I just will have to stop doing some activities.
The same day, a few hours before, we took this photo, in which we can see that being a leader is not being a superior person who only appears for give instructions. Being a leaders means having a interpersonal relationship with as much followers as possible. Watching this photo, no one would realize that in that photo there is a leader. This teach us that all the people is a person, and no one is superior for having more or less power or responsibilities.

 imageBecca Cerra                            Spring 2015

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.

Accurate Awareness
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.  

Personal Leadership:

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:

Communication Skills:
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

People Oriented
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.