Pace Students Take the World One Semester at a Time

As summer came to a close, students began to catch the “back to school” spirit. For most, this meant new backpacks, long to-do lists and new class schedules. But for three Pace students this was not the case. Sophomores Molly Shapiro and Gracie Schneider, along with junior Kaki Cox, scattered multiple directions in search of a change of scenery. From North Carolina to California to Chile, the students are becoming cultured “citizens of the world” as they explore academics from a unique perspective.

At the start of the school year, Molly ventured to Idaho, where she chose to study at the Alzar School. Nestled in Cascade State Park, Idaho, Alzar is a project founded by Sean and Kristin Bierle in 2004 based on the principles of “leadership training, outdoor adventure, service learning and environmental stewardship,” according to Alzar’s website.

During a semester at Alzar, students spend three months in Idaho exploring the state’s natural wonders. Towards the end of October, the students jet to Chile for a month-long trip where they partake in an immersion program alongside native Chilean students. The students practice Spanish and backpack through Chile, applying leadership skills learned in Idaho.

The Alzar School is not unfamiliar to students of Pace Academy. Senior Stephanie Novellas spent her fall semester of junior year traveling with the program. Looking back, Stephanie reminisced on the homestays, noting a memorable friendship made with a Chilean girl her age. During these homestays, the students shadow the teenagers of the village, attending school with them and assisting in household chores, all while speaking the vernacular. Teachers at Alzar look to educate the “next generation of leaders,” expecting Alzar alumni to ultimately make “significant change[s] in the world.”

While Molly treks through Chile, Gracie will be exploring in North Carolina while attending Outdoor Academy. OA is a semester school for 10th grade students located in Pisgah National Forest in Brevard. The program stresses the guidelines of “simple living, work ethic, curiosity, integrity, stewardship, self-reliance and gratitude,” according to the OA website. Students from all over the country meet at Eagle’s Nest Camp, forming everlasting friendships through multiple treks and nature-based classes.

The trip culminates with an 11-day backpacking trip mid-semester through the Pisgah National Forest, in which the students completely detach from the outside world. OA values the importance of unplugging; therefore, they have a strict no phone and no technology policy, which enables their kids to focus on the world around them rather than the screen in front of them.

The academy provides a simple lifestyle, relating the environment to everyday studies and expanding students’ knowledge through hands-on activities. The “environmental education curriculum empowers students to find their pace in the world, realize practical sustainable solutions and create positive change,” according to OA. Pace alumni from Outdoor Academy include Sarah Lettes ’15, who has gone on to study at Brown University.

Unlike the two sophomores, Kaki sought escape to an artistic realm rather than to nature. Kaki’s passion for crafting led her to Napa Valley, California to the Oxbow School. Over the course of four months, students participate in a variety of core classes embodying Oxbow’s artistic values. The upperclassmen divide their time between the classroom and the studio; however, the academic setting can range anywhere from the garden, to the lake or a nearby park.

The school also provides a selection of electives such as gardening, yoga, hiking and kayaking. In December, the program concludes with the infamous “final project,” a collection of the students’ art, research and inquiry compiled over the semester. A combination of a 10-page essay, “examinations into other artists working with similar topics or media,” and art-making is the standard; however, the topic is open-ended. Teachers challenge their students to push the boundaries with their theme and defy the status quo.

The three students are expecting quite the adventure this semester as they pursue their studies. They all plan to return to Pace in January for second semester.

Sophomore Gracie Schneider posing with fellow students from Outdoor Academy, in Brevard, NC. Photo by: Outdoor Academy

Sophomore Gracie Schneider (third from left) poses with fellow students from Outdoor Academy, in Brevard, North Carolina. Photo: Outdoor Academy