What is an outdoor adventure to you? It could be running out of gas and walking a mile to the nearest station or digging a hole for a fence post and hitting a pipe that shouldn’t be hit. It might mean lying on wet grass in the backyard on a warm summer night looking up at the stars. It could be a quarter-mile hike to a waterfall or 22 miles backpacking the Appalachian Trail, a paddle across the lake cove or down a rapid succession of gully washers on a white water river. An outdoor adventure is relative to age, stage and mindset, but there is one thing all outdoor adventures have in common: somewhere along the way, there is an element of surprise.

The Lexington School’s Outdoor Adventure Club (OAC) provides elements of surprise to participating middle school students once a month through affordable weekend excursions camping, hiking, canoeing, white water rafting, caving, and more.

While the success of the club is not a surprise, the best surprise for Joe Conley, Director of OAC is how much the kids learn. “They have a blast so they don’t even realize how much they are learning,” Joe says. “You get so much closer with kids through real life experiences, and you get to watch them build skills that are different than what they get in structured athletics.”

Years ago TLS Math teacher Joe Griggs formed the first Outdoor Adventure Club. “Joe and I took kids out on weekends who wanted to canoe or hike because we were going anyway,” explains Conley. “And it took on a life of its own. Kids loved getting outside; Griggs and other teachers like me loved getting outside. So Griggs asked the school to make it an official club, and that’s how it got started.” OAC is still going strong. Recently, 22 students participated in a chilly weekend camping trip to the Red River Gorge. [VIDEO]

Joe Conley took on the club after Joe Griggs moved back to Tennessee a few years ago. “I love it as much or more as coaching a sport. Watching the kids push themselves and grow is very rewarding. The more you let them do, the more they accomplish. You put the task in front of them and let them know you believe in them. It is very empowering.”

Plenty of research shows what the OAC already knows: kids need to spend more time in nature. It helps them grow. Joe explains, “We put a lot in their hands. It’s pretty student-run. They learn to plan…to budget. They have to pack their own supplies, buy their own food, set fires, cook for themselves, set up camp. Weather happens and they still blaze the trail and lead the charge.”

And then there’s the unplugging—technology is banned from OAC trips. As a result, students open in ways they never knew they could. “They make better friends with kids they might not hang out with at school, and they learn about themselves too.” Joe says. “To have so many kids that want to get out there and recharge in that natural way is very cool. The whole experience is just good for the soul.”

OAC teaches lessons that lie well outside the four walls of the classroom. The natural world holds a new surprise for adults and kids who wrap their arms around the adventure and embrace the next step on their personal journey. Outdoor Adventure Club is another Lexington School platform for the education of the whole child. It’s another program where COURAGE is FOUND.

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