Education outside the norm sparks curiosity.


General Questions

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, medical school, etc). We believe that education is meant to prepare you to make the world a better place, and that this requires rigorous academics as well as opportunities for meaningful character growth and development. Our students are well prepared for the challenges of university life, in many respects due to the personal growth that comes with living independently of their families, and spending intentional time working to become a better leaders. 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 global issues.

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

Alzar School is built on our Six Foundations: leadership training, academics, cultural exchange, outdoor adventure, service learning, and environmental stewardship. Our unique combination of these six foundations 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 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 where you can invest in yourself as a leader as intensively as you can at Alzar School. If you’re considering multiple semester schools, sign up for a free guide to comparing various programs.

Our mission is: We build leaders who positively impact the world.

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), and alzar la vela (to set sail). As a verb, it indicates action, and Alzar School students are full of action. It also reflects Alzar School’s larger goal of elevating what education means for high school students.

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

The school relies on a variety of sources for funding. Private donations make up a significant portion of our funding, while grants and foundational contributions supplement other fundraising efforts. Families do pay tuition, however, tuition costs are mitigated for all students from the true costs of the experience due to the donations we receive. The amount of financial aid any family receives is determined based on need, and many students do receive financial aid each semester.  We also seek to minimize tuition costs by drawing from passionate, committed volunteers whenever possible.

Alzar School was founded in 2004 by Sean and Kristin Bierle. At that time, the school offered three-week expeditions within the United States, Mexico, and Chile. In the fall of 2012, the semester program was launched, and in 2015 Alzar School became an official member of the Semester Schools Network.

Alzar School is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors whose members have a variety of skills and perspectives. We also have a volunteer Advisory Committee who offer their guidance to the school. They are made up of experts from the fields of education, outdoor recreation, business, medicine, service, etc, and are located throughout the United States. The faculty and staff include the founders of Alzar School, Kristin Bierle (Executive Director) and Sean Bierle (Head of School), a Director of Semester Program, Director of Studies, Director of Expeditions and Risk Management, Director of Student Life, Equity and Belonging, Director of Chilean Programs, Director of Admissions, Director of Advancement, Office Manager, teachers and Community and Experiential Advisors. Read the staff bios here. Alzar School attracts professional and passionate educators as teachers and staff for its programs.

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 admissions@alzar.org so that we can help arrange a conversation.

Academics & Curriculum

Yes. Alzar School is fully accredited by the Northwest Accreditation Commission and Cognia. This is the same institution that accredits all the major public and private secondary and post-secondary schools in the region. Alzar School has also been approved by The College Board to offer certain Advanced Placement courses and to administer the PSAT and AP exams. Read more about academics and accreditation.

As an accredited school, many schools directly transfer credits earned at Alzar School onto the student’s transcript. However, it is the responsibility of the student and their family to confirm this before enrolling at Alzar School.  The administrators of Alzar School are happy to help you communicate with your sending school to educate on the many scholastic benefits for students who invest a semester of their high school career with us. Read more about our cooperation with sending schools.

We have designed our curriculum to be college-preparatory for students in their sophomore or junior year of high school. During their semester at Alzar School, students can expect to take all their traditional core classes—math, science, English, history, as well as courses in Spanish, Leadership and PE. Our curriculum is integrated through our leadership program, threaded throughout students’ experiences at Alzar School. 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. Learn more about leadership development at Alzar School, and the curriculum and course offerings. The Curriculum Guide offers more detail on individual classes.

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

Undoubtedly. All of our classes are taught to challenge students, with the ability for students to earn honors and AP designations on their transcripts.  We have strong relationships with some of the most prestigious secondary schools in the nation who continue to encourage their students to attend Alzar School (read more about our sending schools). Alzar School offers engaging, meaningful instruction due to the small class sizes, standards-based curriculum, and stimulating lessons with authentic applications and relevance to students’ lives. Learn more about the academic engagement and high quality instruction here.

Alzar School alumni have gone on to attend some of the finest colleges and universities in the country. An Alzar School graduate is uniquely prepared for college in that they have spent a semester maturing and broadening perspectives while living independently. Our alumni have a greater awareness of what they are looking for from their university experience and of the elements of a community that help them thrive. Admissions offices understand and value the learning and growth that comes from a semester school experience. Lean more about college readiness and the Alzar School.

Because students join Alzar School for only one semester of their high school career, one of our top priorities is to ensure curricular alignment so that the student will have a seamless transition to Alzar School and smooth reentry back to their sending school. We accomplish this by developing strong partnerships and maintaining open communication with families and sending schools. One way we achieve this is through optional Teacher Questionnaires, which families can opt to share with sending school teachers. The subject-specific survey gives us information about what content the student has covered prior to Alzar School, what will be missed during the Alzar School semester, and what will be covered afterwards.  Teachers can share other pertinent information as well, such as textbook, key vocabulary or readings, or syllabi.

At the end of the student’s Alzar School semester, each teacher will include detailed notes on the End of Term Report Card. This includes an individual student narrative, in which the teacher reflects upon the student’s areas of strength and recommendations for growth. It also includes a course narrative, detailing what was included in the content for the semester. Families may opt to share this with the sending school, so that the sending school teachers are aware of the learning that occurred during the student’s semester away.

Alzar School’s Director of Studies (studies@alzar.org) works closely with Academic Deans, counselors, and teachers to address any unique circumstances such as accommodation plans, diverse scope/sequence, and more. Learn more about how the Alzar School can collaborate with sending schools.

Student Life

Alzar School is designed for highly motivated youth 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 Alzar School, the most successful students are those who keep an open mind, who are willing to work hard, and who generally have a positive attitude.

Alzar School students come from all over the United States, and semesters regularly include students from Chile.  Students come from private/public/boarding schools and are unified by the desire to see more of the world through their education. Check out this map showing our network of alumni.

Students will often have access to the internet and their cell phones while at our Idaho campus, although we do start semesters with an approximately 3-5 week period where students check in their phones (so we can build community) and ask students to keep them out of the academic building. Students will typically have access to their iPads on the Idaho campus and can use various means to connect with friends and family back home.  There will be times while on expeditions (both domestically and while in Chile) when students may not be able to access internet or phones. During these times, the school will check in with families. For most of the semester, parents will have plenty of opportunities to call and hear about the amazing experience the students are having. The students will also be able to receive mail while in Idaho. Each semester has a Family Weekend, which is a great time for parents to visit students at our campus in Idaho.

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 Alzar School is typical, you can experience a bit about what a day in the life of a student at our Idaho campus might look like here.

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 adjusted as we get closer to the start of each semester.

Tuition & Scholarships

Alzar School updates our tuition and financial aid information on a yearly basis. Therefore, to receive the most up to date information please refer to our Tuition & Financial Aid webpage.

We strive to make the semester available to students and work hard to raise funds for financial aid each year. When you complete your application for admission to the school, you will also be given the option to apply for financial aid. Admissions decisions are made independently of financial aid awards. In addition, a limited number of merit awards may be available each semester and you can learn more about these opportunities here.

Outdoor Program

Our campus is located on the North Fork of the Payette River, just over two miles downstream from the world-class Kelly’s Whitewater Park and seven miles upstream from the Class II-III Cabarton Section. They will also spend an extended period of time in Chile and Patagonia, which provides the majestic Andes for mountain sports. Students learn to backpack, kayak, raft, climb, and more. You can learn more about our outdoor activities and experiential outdoor education here.

Outdoor adventure sports have inherent risks. Through training, coaching, and development of good judgment, you can learn to manage risks. Alzar School students participate in wilderness first aid training and swiftwater rescue training, and they 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. You can learn more about our outdoor activities and experiential outdoor education here.

Alzar School is fortunate to be able to explore rivers in Idaho, Oregon, California, and Chile. Each offers everything from Class I for our beginners to Class IV for our advanced students, and we break into groups based on skill-level. Alzar School has spent time on the Klamath River, Cal Salmon River, Trinity River, and Clear Creek. We backpack in the Andes (several different national parks), Owyhee Canyonlands, Trinity Alps, Salmon River Mountains, and more.  We operate on special use permits from the Klamath and Shasta-Trinity National Forests. In Idaho we run the Main Payette River, South Fork Payette River, North Fork Payette River (Cabarton section), Salmon River, Owyhee River, and Snake River (Hagerman – Boise National Forest, Payette National Forest, and Salmon-Challis National Forest. In Chile, the rivers we run depend on river levels and geographic region, and may include the Rio Simpson, Rio Paloma, Rio Azul, Rio Espolon, Rio Futaleufu, Rio Claro, Rio Teno, Rio Achibueno, Rio Nuble, Rio Fuy, Rio Trancura, Rio Luicura, Rio San Pedro, Rio Claro (Siete Tazas), and Rio Baker. Learn more about our outdoor classrooms.

Regularly. From the door of the yurts, students can embark on a three-mile snowshoe hike in the winter or work on their kayak roll in the river right on campus. 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 lake areas, and work as a team to summit peaks. As students gain leadership expertise, they can expect to shoulder increasing responsibility for these expeditions, learning to pick routes, plan and organize meals, and set itineraries. You can learn more about our outdoor activities and experiential outdoor education here.

With so many great outdoor sports and activities integrated into one of our semesters, a variety of gear is needed. Alzar School will provide most of the necessary technical equipment, but students will need to acquire certain items.  Generally speaking, students are responsible for having their own personal layers and footwear (rain jackets, long underwear, hiking boots, etc).  Please contact admissions@alzar.org for a current packing list for your semester.  For families receiving financial aid packages, please know that you can communicate with the admissions department about any challenges acquiring required items, and we will see how we can help.

Cultural Exchange

Each semester, students spend 6-7 weeks on an international expedition to Chile. This length of time is substantially longer than most summer programs and provides enough time to get a solid feel for the local culture, language, and landscapes and to foster meaningful experiences. Learn more about international education at Alzar School.

The founders of Alzar School have been working in Chile since 2001, and Alzar School began running programming there in 2007. Chile offers an amazing classroom for our students. The culture is warm and inviting and the government and economy are stable. Students practice Spanish as they make lifelong friends. The history of the country is fascinating, from the pre-colonial Mapuche, to Charles Darwin’s explorations, to the Pinochet era. Chile’s geology and geography provide endless lessons and stunning backdrops. Chile offers 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 common values. Patagonia, a wild and remote portion in the south of the country, maintains some of the best wilderness expanses.  We have developed a one-in-a-kind home at Base Patagonia along the shores of Lago Atravesado that is perfect for groups to live at and learn.

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 still deeply learning about the places we visit. The school also travels together, camping in the Andes and renting cabanas. The school maintains Base Patagonia in the Aysen Region, near Coyhaique, with refugios (rustic cabins) for students to live in. The extended time in one community allows students to get to know the area and local culture. Students spend time exploring the Andes and participating in cultural activities (such as shopping in a Chilean market or interacting with local schools). During the time in Chile, there is very limited internet access.

No. Students can join Alzar School with no previous Spanish training, however, it is a required class for the semester. Immersion in Chile is by far the most fun and effective way to learn the language. Alzar School teachers will help students build their vocabulary, and then students work toward mastery in authentic situations (like making purchases at a Chilean market). Each semester includes students who have never studied Spanish, native Spanish speakers, and everyone in between. Learn more about international education at the Alzar School.