Why is Experiential Education So Important? 

For a week in late September, fourteen intrepid souls wove their way up a mountain trail in the High Sierras to experience the indescribable beauty that is the John Muir Wilderness. And I was fortunate enough to be a member of this crew— the Sophomore Outdoor Education backpacking trip—and it left me eager to return to these mountains for more adventure in the months and years ahead.

Like many Dunn students, when I was a teenager the outdoors held some appeal for me but struggled to compete with the time I spent at movies, playing sports, and hanging out in front of the Atari game console. Now, with almost fifty years under my belt, I have come to appreciate what a wonderful blessing it is to have such glorious wild spaces so close to our school. 

Embedded with 16-year-olds in the John Muir Wilderness, I heard over and over again about the beauty of our surroundings. These young people, who hiked along Lake Edison and up toward Silver Pass, will someday make the laws and guide the policies that govern our world, and I am glad that we have exposed them to this natural beauty so that they may make well-informed decisions about the care of this fragile planet. 

I never attended a school where nature was part of the curriculum like it is here. As Dunn moves toward a more progressive view of what education looks like, our strong history of experiential education in the outdoors continues to serve as one of our main pillars of strength. As other schools discuss how to find ways to create meaningful challenge in the lives of their students, Dunn fine tunes a tradition of many years out on the trail, at the seashore, on rock faces, and traveling down the river. This is happening in both the upper school and the middle school, where both of my sons experienced Dunn's approach to outdoor education as well.

Beyond the environmental awareness that comes from such high-quality experiences, nature itself is a transformative experience. These students spent a week participating in a project that is larger than any one individual. They spent a challenging week caring for each other, feeding each other and learning more about themselves. They may only tell you about the misery of a cold camp in the morning—and it was cold up there– but we know that for many the experience ignited a spark that will last a lifetime.

None of us know what passions will grow out of experiences like these, but I have witnessed so many young people go on from schools such as Dunn and climb for even higher summits and embark on thrilling adventures that make us so proud. I'm lucky to be where I am, with these students, and the teachers who challenge them every day–both in the classroom and on the trail.


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