It’s not always what you know. And it’s not who you know. Success and happiness in life are far more a matter of who you become and how you feel about yourself.
High in the wilderness of the Adirondack Mountains of New York State I came to know a group of remarkable educators who, in my esteem, stand as tall as the snowy peaks that surround their little school. There they teach a version of the three Rs that’s almost as old as the original reading, writing and arithmetic.
Yet this Adirondack version of the three Rs cannot be learned in a classroom only. North Country School (NCS) ensures each and every day that the classroom also extends outside into the barn and onto the farm fields and the lake that are part of the school’s campus. Their Adirondack classroom includes a working organic farm, a ski hill, a towering crag for rock and ice climbing, horse riding rings, and hiking trails that lead in all directions. For 75 years, this little Adirondack boarding school has taken full advantage of its setting amidst the six million acres of mountains and wilderness that make up the great Adirondack Park.
It’s in this wholesome, natural environment that these dedicated educators lead a community that fosters children to discover the self-confidence and values that, in turn, lead to happy adults who contribute to the world. In placing daily and equal emphasis on arts, outdoor education, knowledge, and values (such as commitment to the environment and the importance of working as a community) NCS instills in each successive generation of students an appreciation of their own unique version of three Rs: ruggedness, resourcefulness and resilience.
“It is not so much where you live, what work you do, where you have travelled, your I.Q., or how much or little money you have. It is most of all how you feel about yourself, your family, other people, your work, our planet, the stars, sky and the universe that matter.” – NCS Founder Walter Clark
In fostering ruggedness, the NCS experience builds physical and emotional durability and determination, which is paradoxically accomplished by a highly nurturing, kind, and caring staff that always places the wellbeing of the children as their greatest priority.
Growing to be resourceful means these children develop an innate ability to thrive in difficult situations and rise to the challenges life inevitably throws at us. And isn’t that the ultimate goal of any quality education?
And in nurturing an internal sense of self, NCS cultivates resilience which helps students meet the world with humor, patience, and optimism.
Of course, few children can attend a school that affords all the advantages of location that NCS offers. But having grown up right here in southwest Wisconsin, I understand on a very deep level how our own local environment can also serve as a catalyst to instilling ruggedness, resourcefulness and resilience. Ours is also a wild and natural land with hills and valleys left untouched by glaciers. And our landscape offers abundant challenges if one just really looks. With a little nudging by an adult active in a child’s life, our neck of the woods also offers a vast natural landscape to explore and discover.
One simply has to put down the cell phone. Turn off the TV. And go out looking more closely at what’s around us. There’s a challenging physical activity, an engaging science experiment, and a creativity-inspiring writing or photography or art subject just waiting for us to discover alongside every little stream and just on the other side of every familiar old fence line. Take a child you know and go in search of what’s right outside your everyday field of vision. And inspire some kids you know with this alternative set of the 3 Rs.