Outdoor Academy offers alternative schooling path


Mia Prausnitz-Weinbaum

Senior Mia Prausnitz-Weinbaum was involved in activities such as rock climbing in addition to her classes at Outdoor Academy.

Yei Bin Andrews

The Blue Ridge Mountains greet students as they make their way to class at the Outdoor Academy. Birdsong fills the air.

Tucked away in the heart of Pisgah Forest, NC,  Outdoor Academy (OA) is a school where students live in harmony with nature for a semester. While students have academic courses and continue to earn high school credits, a large emphasis is placed on the environment. Hands-on learning is at the center of the school’s philosophy, as backpacking, climbing and canoeing are just some of the experiences offered.

Senior Mia Prausnitz-Weinbaum first heard about Outdoor Academy in seventh grade. When sophomore year rolled around, she was bored with the monotony of her day-to-day routine and wanted to experience something new.

“OA would be a huge change that I was super excited about,” Prausnitz-Weinbaum said. “I wanted to gain wilderness skills and be more comfortable and confident in nature. I also was really excited to meet new people.”

Sophomore Brody Weiss attended Outdoor Academy this fall semester. Weiss says he was looking for a non-traditional high school environment, a deviation from the norm.

“I feel like everyone who has gone to a public U.S. high school has pretty much done the same things,” Weiss said. “I didn’t want that. I wanted a place without judgment and boredom.”

Weiss was looking for a place where he could be his true self, but he ended up finding so much more than that. He said he found a community of students from different walks of life that all shared a common interest in bettering themselves and the environment.

“OA is just such a community, something that I never really felt at Grady,” Weiss said. “Every Monday night at OA, we would have these community meetings where we’d discuss issues affecting our group. They taught me how important conversations about issues are.”

In addition to an accepting community, Prausnitz-Weinbaum found a deep appreciation for her teachers.

“I loved all my teachers and was comfortable around them, and it felt like they cared about me and my learning,” Prausnitz-Weinbaum said. “They would actually listen if any student voiced a grievance and would make a change.”

Coming from the halls of Grady, both Prausnitz-Weinbaum and Weiss found that OA was a big shift in the environment.

“The academic culture was totally different. I worked harder than I ever have and earned lower grades than I ever have had while at OA,” Prausnitz-Weinbaum said.

Prausnitz-Weinbaum says she enjoyed the diversity in the curriculum at Outdoor Academy.

“In class, we have discussions and arguments about topics rather than just sitting and taking notes,” Weiss said. “The teachers and staff are passionate about what they do.”

Part of OA’s appeal to students is the fact that it’s not centered around classroom-based learning. Instead, students are out in nature, learning how to improve themselves from the inside out.

“School itself was not the main focus at OA,” Prausnitz-Weinbaum said. “There was a larger focus on growing as individuals and as a community, creating lasting relationships and learning outdoor skills.”

Even though students attend OA for only a semester, it may become one of their most meaningful high school memories.

“I miss having my closest friends around me at all times,” Weiss said. “I miss being 100 percent myself at all times.”

Sophomore Everett Stubin heard about OA from friends. Stubin found an interest in making new friends and new memories, but he also found another side of attending.

“I think my mental state would benefit, as opposed to having a stressful school environment,” Stubin said.

Even though Grady and OA are worlds apart, it has been easy for Grady students to make that transition.

“I was always occupied with my OA life,” Prausnitz-Weinbaum said. “I never really had a fear of missing out or anything like that about Grady.”