A Semester of Firsts

Alzar School | 20.05.20

Alzar School’s Semester XVI has been a semester of firsts in oh-so-many ways. Semester XVI students, families, faculty and staff alike demonstrated great courage this spring by figuratively stepping foot into uncharted territories.    

A blazing rainbow on Alzar School’s Cascade campus, during the final week of remote classes.

For their first feat, Semester XVI students have been the only semester so far to meet one another at a location far beyond our Idaho campus. This time, students gathered anxiously in a hotel conference room in Atlanta, Georgia just prior to boarding the plane that would begin our long journey to Coyhaique – no turning back! We were impressed by the courage our students demonstrated in those initial moments of preparation for a voyage into a Spanish-speaking country amid those who were, at the time, more-or-less strangers. Semester XVI was also the first semester to greet their Chilean classmates in Chile! 

Additionally, Semester XVI is the first group of Alzar School students to have lived in the refugios at Base Patagonia in Lago Atravesado. They patiently and optimistically helped troubleshoot and break in our new systems, including sensitive rural plumbing, daily hill hiking, communal quincho cooking, indoor shoes changing, expedition rationing, giant red off-road bus riding … the list goes on! In Chile, Semester XVI was also the premiere group to enjoy eating specially prepared traditional Chilean cuisine from our local chefs and to have wide-open classroom window views of Lago Atravesado and her circumferential jagged peaks.   

In Chile, Semester XVI was also the premiere group to enjoy eating specially prepared traditional Chilean cuisine from our local chefs and to have wide-open classroom window views of Lago Atravesado and her circumferential jagged peaks.   

Semester XVI wins the award for shortest amount of time spent in Idaho. Although this is not a fact to be celebrated, it opened the door for a flood of new Semester XVI originals (and we hope that they will also be the first to have a vast majority of alumni return for a very special Idaho expedition block)! Foremost, Semester XVI students have been the first to experience the small joys and bits of entertainment that accompany Zoom class meetings, such as customizing backgrounds, muting your friends, watching your classmates use their Zoom camera as a mirror, bringing pets to class, wondering if your peers are wearing “real” pants or pajama pants, having your family member make a guest star appearance, sitting up in bed to fool your teachers into thinking you are simply at a really soft fluffy desk …   

Alzar School Semester XVI student, Campbell, camouflages her Zoom costume as part of a running contest in Capstone Leadership Course

Upon their transition to remote learning, as Semester XVI students prepared to take things home in a very swift and literal sense, they compiled a list of inspirational phrases and memories never to be forgotten. Below is the students’ list of what they wanted to metaphorically take home with them from Alzar School:

  1. Express gratitude 
  2. Smile
  3. Sit with someone who you might think is weird 
  4. Do your own laundry 
  5. Laugh more often 
  6. Live a little more 
  7. Pursue every opportunity 
  8. Lay outside 
  9. Jump in the river/lake when it’s cold 
  10. Look at the stars 
  11. Have dance parties 
  12. Do a bonding activity 
  13. Give more hugs 
  14. Stop to smell the roses 
  15. Be grateful for the sunshine
  16. Be weird 
  17. Learn about what interests you 
  18. Take nothing for granted 
  19. Don’t wait for next time 
  20. Stay in the moment 
  21. Laugh when things go wrong 
  22. Find the good and keep the good 
  23. Do more things that make you feel scared
  24. Carne y papas
  25. Stop to throw snow at people 
  26. Drink more maté than water 
  27. YOLO 
  28. Speak more goblin 
  29. Do be afraid to wet exit 
  30. Wear your neoprene once a month 
  31. Be a wild cat 
  32. “Full send” 
  33. Live every day as your last … you never know when Sean and Kristin may come in 
  34. Get up for the sunrise
  35. Break in your hiking boots 
  36. Oh MAN
  37. Ride the rainbow 
  38. Journal 
  39. Manjar per square inch 
  40. Chao 
  41. Al la Casa 
  42. Ask a lot of questions 
  43. Have deep conversations with people you normally wouldn’t 
  44. You can live off trail mix 
  45. Hold hands and tackle 
  46. When you’re doing the dishes, do the dishes 
  47. Hide the matches 
  48. Soak the lentils
  49. Have your stuff together *CLAP*
  50. “Woah, calm down” 
  51. “Dale no mas” 
  52. “Buena compara” 
  53. “Do you want a cookie?”

Families, we encourage you to ask your remarkable Semester XVI students to breathe life into these ideas and phrases and to stimulate their re-inspiration through storytelling with their loved ones. We are sure that you have heard many tales already and hope that this list may rekindle the Alzar School flame for members of your household. Some day, your students may refer back to these as powerful pearls of wisdom.

Stay safe! Stay inspired! Stay gold.  


  • About the author: Rachel Ackerman is a Science Teacher and a Blog Coordinator at Alzar School. Feel free to contact her at rackerman@alzar.org with comments, concerns, and interesting topics for future blog posts!