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Communique: "Education Without Walls" Develops Academic & Leadership Skills In The Wilderness

"Education Without Walls" July 2017 trip to Alaska

The headquarters of the National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) is right here in Wilmington, North Carolina. There are various programs and coursesavailable for people who want to experience the wilderness-including Education Without Wallsfor chronically homeless/impoverished youth. Support for the program comes through volunteers, gifts-in-kind, and underwriting of courses. 

I spoke with the founder and Executive Director of NCOAE. Listen above and see the transcript below.

Gina: Zach Adair is an outdoorist.


Credit WHQR/gg
Student Jack (L) and Executive Director Zack Adair

Zack: A rock climber, mountaineer, back country ski. I was a raft guide, a paddle instructor, backpacker, surfer. That was my life for many years lived out of the back of my Toyota Tacoma for six years traveling from the West Coast to the east coast leaving to go to Panama to Mexico to Costa Rica, chasing the seasons and adventures.

Gina: He still is an outdoor guy, but 14 years ago, Zack was hit by a car in the Outer Banks while riding his bicycle.

Zack: I was in a coma for nine days and many broken bones and gone completely blind in my right eye, and my left eye, I've got just under 2 percent of my sight left.


Gina: After healing, Zack went back to school. He earned his Master's degree in Adventure Education and he met his wife, Celine, also an outdoor enthusiast and a wilderness therapist. In 2009 Zach and Celine founded NCOAE. It's headquartered here in Wilmington and offers outdoor programs from here to the Himalayas. One program for young people is called Education Without Walls (EWW).


Credit NCOAE
Students dropped off in the Alaska wilderness, July 2017

Zack: Education Without Walls was there from day one. It was developed primarily for our local teenagers that were identified through the public school systems as being chronically homeless through the McKinney-Vento Act, and/or those students that were at or below the federal poverty guidelines. So we focused on that particular population because the academics of this particular population are compromised. For one reason or another, they don't have the structure and the support they need within their home life or their community or their school to be successful with their academics. So our focus was really on that population to provide that structure, to provide that role model, to provide a curriculum that would influence, you know, positive thinking, problem solving, values, leadership, decision making. So these students can develop these skills to be successful in school. The wilderness is our classroom.

Gina: A Wilmington high school student named Jack just went to Alaska with Education Without Walls. Jack's been involved with NCAOE for five years. He said this program really boosted his confidence.

Credit NCOAE
The National Park Service supported the Alaska trip; in exchange, the students did work clearing trees and debris

Jack: My first time backpacking was with NCAOE, so I had to overcome the beginning difficulties of how to pack, just like, walking up a mountain, you know feeling the weight on your shoulders, just getting over that. And also how to survive in the wilderness. And some of the more mental ones were how to be a better partner to the people who were sitting right beside me. I had to establish better communication skills, decision making and interpersonal skills. It was just really the sense of being out there that was the real challenge. The support and love that I got. It kind of embraced me. Together we could get through anything you know what stood out to me had to be that moment where I knew that I could overcome anything with these people that I was sitting right in front of. Just knowing that there's other people like me. And they made it through the same thing. And that they can go on being stronger.


Credit NCOAE
"Education Without Walls" participant in Alaska, July 2017