Outdoor Education


ey's commitment to providing a supportive environment for experiential learning extends far beyond the classroom. Opportunities for outdoor education are integral to the Key experience from Pre-School through grade twelve.

Opportunities for outdoor education
are integral to the Key experience.

All students, beginning in Middle School, participate in overnight trips that range from two to six days and include camping, hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and environmental exploration.  While the focus of exploration is on the Chesapeake Bay and Shenandoah National Park locales, groups also travel to Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, and other parts of Maryland and Virginia. 

View detailed descriptions of trip activities here.

The principles underlying Key's outdoor education program emphasize the development of community, the significance of leadership and teamwork, the discovery of both confidence and compassion, the value of respect for self and others, the need for stewardship of the environment, and the relevance of the natural world to learning in the classroom and beyond.

Middle School Outdoor Education

Fifth grade students walk to neighboring Quiet Waters Park early in the fall, and again in the spring, to spend a day focusing on community building activities while also making connections to their curricular work.   

Sixth grade students camp for three days at Echo Hill on Maryland's Eastern Shore where they focus on individual challenges, team-building and Chesapeake Bay studies. They also camp for two days in Harpers Ferry to connect with aspects of their Civil War studies and hike some beautiful trails in the area.
PHOTOS: Echo Hill

Seventh graders experience the rigors of a two-day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, as well as a four-day camping experience at Point Lookout State Park, which involves an introduction to canoeing and an in-depth look at ecosystems of the area in support of their science curriculum.
PHOTOS: Appalachian Trail, Point Lookout State Park

Eighth graders spend three days in the fall backpacking in the Shenandoah National Park and summiting the locally famous Old Rag Mountain. They also sail to Wye Island in the spring, where they spend six days camping, canoeing around the Island, and exploring its environments. The Outdoor Education Program also joins with the Physical Education Department in the winter to offer eighth graders a series of outdoor challenges and initiatives that promote individual and community growth through group problem-solving.
PHOTOS: Old Rag, Wye Island

Optional Trips: Key also offers Middle School students three optional trips during the year, including a day-hike on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, a mountain biking trip at Patapsco State Park, and an inter-divisional (Middle School and Upper School) High Ropes Course Day at Camp Letts.
PHOTOS:Appalachian Trail Hike, Ropes Course, Mountain Biking Trip

Upper School Outdoor Education

In the Upper School, outdoor experiences grow in terms of scope, duration and interdisciplinary curricular connection.

The ninth grade Island Odyssey trip provides an opportunity to spend three days on Tangier, Smith and Fox Islands, studying ancient civilizations, physics, music, and art as well as the current environment of the Bay and its cultural implications.
PHOTOS: Island Odyssey

In the fall, tenth graders travel to Carderock near Great Falls, Maryland, for a three-day rock climbing trip that focuses on developing trust and communication within the class. In the spring, tenth grade students work together during a four-day canoeing and camping excursion, Rollin' on the River, where the study of history and chemistry become integral as they assess the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the region.
PHOTOS: Carderock

Eleventh grade biology students take several extended trips to explore the ecological interactions in and around the Chesapeake Bay, concluding their year with a five-day trip to Assateague Island where they investigate the area's diverse habitats.
PHOTOS: Assateague Island

The progression of trips in the outdoor program culminates with a twelfth grade whitewater rafting experience on the Youghiogheny River in Pennsylvania, offering the seniors an opportunity to discuss and plan their potential leadership initiatives for the year, and a spring two-day trip to Wye Island to celebrate the many accomplishments and successes throughout the years in the Outdoor Education Program.
PHOTOS: Leadership Rafting Trip

Optional trips: Additionally, all Upper School students have the opportunity to participate in an array of optional weekend trips throughout the fall, winter and early spring. Approximately fifteen percent of the Upper School student body are also trained as Outdoor Peer Leaders, and in that capacity help co-lead our Middle School backpacking experiences.

Summer Opportunities

Recent summer opportunities, available to Middle and Upper School students depending on the nature of the trip, have included: the Allagash Challenge, a 98-mile, fourteen-day wilderness canoe trip in northern Maine; the John Smith Chesapeake Water Trail Experience, a six-day backcountry canoe trip on the Patuxent River; the Peer Leadership Workshop, a five-day backpacking trip in Shenandoah National Park that focuses on outdoor leadership; the West Coast Adventure, a fourteen-day backpacking and paddling exploration of the Oregon Cascades and northern California redwoods regions; and the SusqueBayChallenge, a 633-mile canoe trip from the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem in New York, down the Susquehanna River to the southern waters of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia.
PHOTOS: Chesapeake Bay Kayaking

The opportunity to learn in these outdoor settings is a concept that has been embedded in the life of the School since its inception and has a profound impact on the students' academic work as well as the growth and well-being of the School community.



Upcoming Trips & Other News

  • Upper School Optional Winter Ski Trip

    We are pleased to announce an optional ski trip for Upper School students February 20-25, 2017, during Mid-Winter Break at Winter Park, CO. There will be an information meeting about this trip the evening of Tuesday, November 29 from 7:00-8:00 p.m. in the Barn Commons.

  • Key Instructors Publish Article in School Arts Magazine

    “Meaningful Outdoor Collaborations,” co-written by Visual Arts Department Head Andy Katz and Outdoor Education Department Head Brian Michaels, was published in the November issue of School Arts Magazine. Highlighting the benefits of interdisciplinary teaching, the article includes stunning photos of Key students’ spontaneous artwork completed during their outdoor education trips. Click to see a sample of the artwork and read the article.

  • Service Learning Takes Students to Cape Eleuthera

    Key students in Cape Eleuthera at the firehouse they helped restore

    Accompanied by Outdoor Education Head Brian Michaels, teacher Dan Schoos, and veteran Outdoor Education teacher Lee Schreitz ’70, twelve Upper School students participated in the twelve-day trip, which combined an international community service project with a five-day sea-kayaking adventure.

  • Key's Outdoor Education Program Featured in News Article

    Click to read the article outlining the history and scope of Key School's outdoor education program.

  • AIMS Outdoor Education Workshop at Key

    Key’s Outdoor Education Department is hosting Community, Adventure, Curriculum: Outdoor Education In Our Schools on December 3. This full-day, hands-on AIMS workshop is designed for teachers from other Maryland schools who are interested in integrating the outdoors into their work with children.
  • Key School Parents Venture to Wye Island

    An inaugural parent outdoor education trip in October 2009 brought together Key parents from all divisions of the School for a day of paddling and hiking. Mirroring the experiences embraced by their children on Key School outings, parents gathered on Wye Island to canoe on Dividing Creek, enjoy a “Curry lunch,” hike along the Nature Trail, and come together for a closing circle at the holly tree to reflect on how the day’s experiences aligned with their personal goals. Click here for photos.


Sat Mar 11

Optional 12th Grade Outdoor Education Trip to Wye Island

Thru: Sunday, March 12, 2017

Optional 9th Grade Outdoor Education Backpacking Trip

Location: Rose River Shenandoah National Park
Thru: Sunday, March 12, 2017