Finding Balance Outside of the Comfort Zone
The Outdoor Adventure and Education Program at IMS
On any given day at IMS, you may see a group of giggling kindergartners exploring the trails on Indian Mountain, 1st graders collecting icicles from playground equipment, a 5th grader quietly observing insects by the pond, or the 9th grade class carrying 20-pound back-packs, headed for New Hampshire. This is our Outdoor Adventure and Education programming, or OAE, and it’s a hallmark of the student experience at IMS.
Throughout the year, the mountain, ponds, fields and trails on our 600-acre campus provide countless opportunities for experiential learning, play, and personal growth. The OAE program breaks down the classroom walls, serving as a complement to material being studied in math, science, literacy, geography, language, art, and more.
Eliza Statile is the OAE Director, and came to IMS in 2019. An avid outdoors person, her childhood included hiking and camping trips, ropes course challenges, bungee jumps, and a trek through New Zealand which solidified her ambition to be an outdoor education leader. “I love what the outdoors can do for everyone,” Ms. Statile says. “At IMS, the OAE program teaches students to problem solve, be resourceful, manage emergencies, and push themselves outside of their comfort zones. In the process, they develop a deep respect for nature and build lifelong bonds with their classmates.”
Lower Campus students participate in outdoor learning in a variety of ways, including frequent trail hikes, “Take it Out Tuesdays,” and work in the school garden. The first overnight adventure happens in 5th grade on the mountain, which sets the stage for more challenging excursions off campus in 7th through 9th grade — ziplining, whitewater rafting, hiking and camping trips in the White Mountains and the Taconic Range, as well as off the coast of Maine. OAE also works closely with sustainability programming and initiatives at IMS, helping students understand the ripple effects of their actions, both on the environment and in their community. Students learn the power they have as individuals to become good stewards of the land and protect it for generations.
The OAE program serves another purpose beyond Adventure and Education. Spending time away from screens, playing in fresh air, and finding a space to clear the mind is perhaps more important now than ever before to support mental health and wellness. “The outdoors is a great place to re-center,” says Ms. Statile, “and we have so much outdoor space here on campus that we can take advantage of.”
IMS students come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and Ms. Statile makes sure that OAE is accessible to all. As she puts it, “Our job is to remove the barriers, whether it’s financial, physical, or something else. It’s super important to me that we are meeting students where they are and we’re helping them feel supported.” Ms. Statile adds that sometimes the biggest barrier is fear. “We prepare a lot,” she says, “and we reassure the students that any step is a big step that they should be proud of, and that we’re so proud of them. And, there’s a lot of positive reinforcement from their classmates. Facing challenges like this is really a bonding experience.”
Ms. Statile hopes her students will be inspired by her passion for the outdoors, and that they will carry the lessons they’ve learned into secondary school and beyond. She says, “Sure, it is challenging to carry a 20-pound backpack for 10 miles in the woods. Of course it’s more comfortable to be inside in controlled temperatures. But if you are prepared and open-minded, you can really tackle a lot more than you think. And that’s one of the biggest lessons you can learn in life.”