"It is folly to attempt to educate children with
in a city
; the first step must be to remove them out of it."
The Durham Academy of Durham, NC has brought their 9th grade class of 100 students to Turtle Island every Fall for the past 20 years.
A Special Note to Educators from Dave Gould
To anyone considering adding an outdoor education/experiential education program to your existing curriculum:
For the past decade, Durham Academy has run a highly successful and popular outdoor education program for our upper school. Each class, from grades 9-12, begins the school year with the outdoor education program designed for their year level. In grades 9-11, our students spend three days with on site outfitters in the Carolina mountains; they then begin their senior year with a six-day 'Senior Challenge' backpacking expedition in the shadows of Mt. Mitchell.
We purposely chose to begin our outdoor ed program at the ninth grade level with Turtle Island. The reasons? The integrity and vision of its founder, Eustace Conway, have created a 19th century mountain 'homestead' where our kids could become totally involved in their ancestor's way of life, learn the importance of simple lifestyles and our surrounding environment, and create insight into their own character. Simply put, at Turtle Island, our kids learn the value of moving out of their comfort zone and taking risks; that risk-taking, in turn, can go a long way in helping create a real sense of community.
Over the years, the Turtle Island program has become legendary amongst our students. Before they go, they think they cannot deal with an outdoor bathroom, eat primarily organic food cooked over woodstoves, sleep in a tipi, swim in a cold mountain stream, or successfully complete a night hike without a flashlight. They wonder if they can learn to make a fire without matches, cook bread in a makeshift outdoor oven, carve their own eating utensils, track a deer, and make stone age jewelry from rocks they find in a stream. They resist not wearing a watch, taking a shower every morning, rising in near darkness to meditate as the sun comes over the hills surrounding Turtle Island.
Of course they then do all of these things. More surprisingly, they find they LIKE doing them. Part of their reaction is due to the caring and compassionate nature of the staff that Eustace brings together. Part of it is due to the sheer simplicity and honesty of the Turtle Island environment. Most of it is probably due to their increasing willingness during their time at Turtle Island to take greater risks because they and their peers, perhaps for the first time, are all on a level playing field where everyone is learning by doing.
There is little question that our kids feel terrifically empowered by their experience at Turtle Island. There is a palpable sense of accomplishment in their conversations on our bus trip home and the resulting carryover when school begins the following Monday is a delight to watch. We get a terrific amount of 'campus mileage' from the Turtle Island experience. Bringing back the 'spirit of the mountain' smoothes our efforts to create class unity - the common experience of such a wonderful and unique place makes a real difference in campus spirit and class camaraderie.
I believe there are not many places like Turtle Island. The power of it's place, the heightened awareness of simple values, and the resulting appreciation for all the human spirit can do are keenly felt by all of us at DA. It is simply a terrific experience.
Director of Special Programs
Programs Especially for Educators
Turtle Island's school camp is full of fun and adventure based on exciting educational experiences with nature. Hands-on "doing it" nature crafts step students into another realm of consciousness as they experiment with nature through daily lifestyle activities. While living in tipis and making nature crafts, students not only create meaningful art, but also develop self confidence and group cohesiveness.
We work with students of all ages and levels of outdoor experience. The school trip is a living experience, confronting and realizing the essentials of life. Students have the opportunity to see the world through new perspectives created through immersion in the natural environment. They are guided by sensitive naturalists toward understanding the beautiful intricacies of life. We purposefully maintain primitive surroundings instead of "overdeveloping" our site.
Our educational program is based on students' interaction with and development of outdoor living skills. These skills are taught by extraordinary naturalists who have integrated the outdoor living theme into their personal lives. WOOD WISDOM gained from such activities as making and tending a fire, pitching a tipi, making a bed, and gathering water gives campers a fundamental education for living in the wilds comfortably. As skills develop so does confidence.
Available for ALL AGES - interpreted experiences for daily or overnight programs.\
Experiencing the realness of a non-electrical, horse drawn farm built of logs in the middle of a remote wildlife preserve sets one's imagination on fire. Leave the text with the rest of the modern world and participate in historic crafts, feelings, sounds, stories, and economy. Smell burning coal and hot metal on your blacksmith's anvil. Taste bread from the stone oven baked with wood you fired yourself. Spin rope from local tree bark. Gather fresh food from the gardens and forest. Enjoy the retreat of a wagon ride through a secluded wonderland of the Southern Appalachian mountains. Collect from the land not only new understandings, but a realization of where enerything comes from! We nuture respect and appreciation for our world through the teachings of our elders and tradition.
Two years ago we discovered Turtle Island and for the second year straight our eighth graders have had life-changing experiences. When preparing a group of thirty middle school students for a nine day trip to a mountain hollow that is devoid of modern plug-in conveniences and distractions we encounter a fair amount of anxiety. For many of our students its their first time away from home for more than a weekend and for just about all of us its our first time adopting an eighteenth century lifestyle for an extended period of time. Two hours after the bus was parked, by the light of the opening campfire, I realized that the anxiety was gone. The multi-talented Turtle Island staff is that good at making kids feel cared for. The feeling lasted the entire trip because it is a genuine one. These folks are passionate about what they do and teach. And boy do they teach! Experiential education works incredibly well when kids feel safe and secure even while pushing their personal comfort zones and trying things that are new to them. I can’t say enough about what a powerful and positive experience Turtle Island has been for my students.
Ben Van Rooy
Discovery Program Teacher
Orange County Virginia Public Schools