Department Chair: Sarah Councell, (505) 858-8865
Experiential education is best defined as learning by doing with reflection. Long known as “Ex Ed,” experiential education at Albuquerque Academy includes programming in outdoor, environmental, and wilderness education, as well as leadership development. The program has been a unique feature of the Academy since 1975. At the program’s inception, then-Headmaster Ashby Harper wrote, “The program is based on the conviction that students can learn in a rugged wilderness environment some of the important values which cannot be learned in the classroom.” As the program has evolved, the Academy has steadfastly maintained that conviction.
Ex Ed is mandatory for students in grades six through nine and takes place on Academy lands and wilderness areas throughout New Mexico and the Four Corners region. Classroom and field-based leadership and technical skills courses are optional for students in grades 10-12. Seniors finish their time at Academy with the senior projects program, an experiential capstone during the last month of school. One option during senior projects is the Ex Ed seminar.
The experiential education department also supports experiential co-curricular trips with visual arts, science, and the world languages exchange program.
Sixth graders begin their Ex Ed journey by exploring three environmentally diverse locations within Albuquerque. During day hikes in the desert and in the bosque, students learn about natural history and the basics of outdoor travel and connect with their peers in a new environment. The capstone of sixth grade is an overnight trip in the Sandia foothills, where students are introduced to the outdoor living skills that will carry them into the rest of their experiences with Ex Ed. Trips are co-led by experiential education and sixth grade faculty.
In seventh grade, a backpacker is born. Grouped with peers of the same gender, seventh-grade students travel into backcountry campsites, where they camp for four days and three nights. During their time in the backcountry, students day hike, play and explore, learn how to cook and collect water, and spend time getting to know themselves, their peers, and their local mountains on a deeper level.
At the beginning of the year, the entire eighth grade class participates in a three-day, two-night retreat designed to allow students and faculty to build relationships as they enter a new division. The retreat provides students the opportunity to immerse in a mini intensive course of their choosing. Courses are experiential in focus and rooted in teacher passion and student interest. Students also spend time as a large group completing class-cohesion activities.
The ninth-grade expedition is the capstone of the required portion of the experiential education curriculum. Throughout the year, small coeducational groups of ninth graders participate in a remote backpacking trip in a regional wilderness area. Trip locations are determined by water, weather, and permit restrictions. Program goals include: enhanced knowledge and competency in backcountry travel and living skills, development of meaningful peer connections, and intra- and interpersonal skill development.
Students in 10-12 have the opportunity to take electives offered by the Ex Ed department: Outdoor Pursuits and Outdoor Leadership classes may count as an elective in Experiential Education or may be used to fulfill the physical education requirement.
Outdoor Pursuits will introduce students to technical skills and expand their knowledge of outdoor living skills. Courses focus on whitewater kayaking, rock climbing, and mountain biking. In addition to regular class meetings, each course has one or more field components. Outdoor Leadership is a year-long course designed to provide students with enhanced outdoor living and travel skills along with an introduction to the knowledge and leadership needed to lead others safely and competently outdoors. Students have the opportunity to practice their emerging leadership as a student leader on a sixth-grade and a seventh- or ninth-grade trip.
Twelfth graders also participate in a four-week senior seminar, an experiential capstone to their senior year. Learn more about Senior Projects.
Ex Ed offers one or more three-week field-based seminars for seniors during senior projects. During the Ex Ed seminar, students might manage basecamp or backcountry kitchens, learn technical skills such as rock climbing and canyoneering, or evolve to become ultralight backpackers. Whether they have been involved in Ex Ed electives throughout their tenure or are able to take advantage of senior seminar to get back to their Ex Ed roots, the seminar is a unique opportunity for seniors to spend three weeks in the field cultivating their technical and outdoor living skills before graduation.
The experiential education department hosts three wilderness medicine courses each year, taught by current and former Ex Ed faculty: Wilderness First Responder Recertification, a Wilderness First Aid Course, and a student-only Wilderness First Aid Course. The student-only Wilderness First Aid Course is offered each winter; students are contacted via email and school announcements to sign up.