Signature Programs

Athenian Wilderness Experience (AWE)

List of 1 items.

  • Experience

    The Adventure

The Athenian Wilderness Experience (AWE) is a graduation requirement for all students and a distinctive feature of The Athenian School curriculum. This 26-day wilderness backpacking program is designed to promote personal growth and develop a sense of community. The course is a dynamic and concentrated reflection of The Athenian School’s values and mission without the insulation provided by the amenities, complications, and diversions of daily routines. Normally completed in the junior year, AWE is offered during the spring in the canyons and mountains of Death Valley National Park and during the late summer in the high country of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (under permit by the U.S. Forest Service).

List of 3 frequently asked questions.

  • Why is AWE required?

    The Athenian Wilderness Experience contributes to a foundation in both the Outdoor Adventure and the Environmental Stewardship pillars of The Athenian School and has been a part of the Athenian curriculum since 1969. Dyke Brown, the founder of the Athenian School, based the School’s mission on his experiences with Kurt Hahn and the Salem School. Kurt Hahn’s ideas and philosophy have spawned Round Square, the Gordonstoun School and Outward Bound. Hahn encouraged outdoor adventure as a way to engender a greater sense of compassion, self-discovery, physical fitness and self-reliance. He was invested in students developing mature communication and decision-making skills.
  • What is the course itinerary?

    An AWE course breaks down into the following components:

    Main Phase
    An intensive period that involves learning new skills. Instructors direct students in each of the skill areas including (but definitely not limited to): interpersonal communication, decision making, environmental ethics, proper shelter set up, cooking, navigation, personal care in the backcountry, risk management, and first aid topics. This phase normally lasts about 14 days. Instructors teach and monitor initially, then expect students to begin utilizing what they’ve learned and take on more and more responsibility as the course progresses. Within the main phase, there may also be a rock climbing portion (designed to build skills and trust) that is run by the directors with help from the logistics crew. By the end of the Main Phase, it is expected that students can take on more ownership for care of themselves and each other in the outdoor environment. Instructors step back from the decision-making process and serve an advisory role as needed.

    This is generally a 3 day, 3 night period. Students are given a small area with defined boundaries in which they spend time alone. There is a system which involves checks by instructors twice or more times a day and whistle communication protocols in case of emergency. Other students and the instructors are nearby, also in a fixed location. Students have individual shelters, water, and a “solo pack” of food containing about 6,000 calories for the 3 days. This time is designed to give students a physical break, a mental break, and a chance to reflect on their experience up to that point. Again, students are not hiking while on solo, they remain in one location.

    Independent Student Travel Phase
    Previous to undertaking independent student travel a group should exhibit: care and compassion for one another, an understanding of technical skills, and conservative risk management decisions. During “Independence”, instructors shadow the students, usually hiking approximately 15-20 minutes away. Instructors may travel closer to or even with the group if terrain, weather or other conditions present a concern in the instructor’s judgment. A system involving notes at specific times and locations, a specifically written itinerary, and emergency plans is put into place before this phase.
  • Who supports the student groups?

    Instructors come from a variety of backgrounds and are experienced with guiding students in a wilderness setting. Instructors are hired based on their experience in the field, their teaching ability, and their interest in and involvement with the students and the program. These are professional outdoor educators who work for similar programs nationally and internationally. Their careers involve work for such programs as the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Outward Bound, private high schools with outdoor programs, college outdoor programs, and wilderness therapy schools. Every instructor is certified medically at the Wilderness First Responder (WFR) or higher.

    In-field support for the courses is provided by one Program Director, the Associate Director, adult Course Directors, and student logistical assistants (“logies”). This group is collectively referred to as “Logistics”. There are many details that this crew attends to in order to make a course run smoothly including equipment repair, organization of food and water re-supplies and managing the rock-climbing portions of the trip. In addition, the directors serve as a resource for instructors and students. The logistics crew supports all groups and is not with any one group exclusively. We hike and camp in both backcountry and front country areas in order to be accessible.

AWE Trip to the High Sierras

AWE Trip to Death Valley

List of 2 members.

  • Photo of Phoebe Dameron

    Phoebe Dameron 

    Co-Director of Athenian Wilderness Experience
  • Photo of Jason Ham

    Jason Ham 

    Co-Director of Athenian Wilderness Experience