KEYnotes: Paul Bayne, Outdoor Education Department Head

The start of the school has been a busy and exciting time for Outdoor Education at Key. Our students have already traveled near (Fusco Athletic Park) and far (Harpers Ferry, WV) to experience the natural world and its relevance to the classroom and beyond. 

Creating opportunities for experiential learning through outdoor education is an integral part of the Key experience. In addition to being really fun, the experiences teach resilience, grit and self-determination and increase emotional intelligence, social development and, most importantly, systems for social support.

One of the unique aspects of Key's Outdoor Education Program is that an entire grade, teachers and all, go together. By having a whole class go as part of their experience, we can build the program over many years in conjunction with the academic and life skills portions of the curriculum.

Since the founding of the School, students have participated in multi-day outdoor trips. The intent isn't to graduate a class of backpackers and canoers, although many of our students are well equipped to participate in these kinds of lifelong activities. Full grade trips are an opportunity to achieve the School's mission in an experiential context. For some students who thrive in a traditional academic environment, these trips will help push their boundaries. For students who may struggle, the trips can be a way to show their abilities and thrive in a different environment. We've found that even students who are not particularly fond of camping come to see the value of the trips as they progress through their years at Key. Our oldest students and alumni/ae/x regularly talk about their outdoor experiences being one of the most important opportunities for growth at Key. 

In a typical year, the Outdoor Education Program, led by an experienced team of guides, wilderness first responders, NOLS graduates, ISEEN members, and others, averages around forty-five days of trips and another ten days of optional programming. This does not include the summer trips, which may include another twelve to twenty days. Together, this adds up to over 2,300 "student days" of programming each year.

The global pandemic has undoubtedly altered the current offerings in the Outdoor Education Program. While we anticipate a return to full grade trips soon, we are focused on creating meaningful trips for all the Middle and Upper grades this fall. Some aspects, like group tent camping, will have to wait a little longer, as the safety of students is our top priority. 

In the meantime, get outside and enjoy all the season has to offer!