A ‘Wide Open’ Education

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A rustic log cabin is tucked in a meadow, surrounded by majestic oaks and towering pines, secluded by bordering National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management wilderness. The view from the porch is of  the wooded hills that cradle the nearby town of French Gulch and on arrival, visitors are greeted by a friendly, wet-nosed canine named Rowan. The cabin could easily be mistaken for a storybook vacation home and its setting for a mountain Shangri-la, but the cabin is the administrative office for Nawa Academy, and the view from the porch, just a slice of the 556 wooded acres that its students call home.

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Nawa Academy, a non-traditional, non-therapeutic boarding school is the vision of three families with backgrounds in academics and residential treatment. Their focus is to nurture students in an environment that emphasizes teaching based on individual abilities and learning styles and provide students with learning differences such as dyslexia, ADHD and dysgraphia (the inability to write caused by cerebral lesion) with an environment where they can succeed.

“Even though we’re out here in the sticks, Nawa is a progressive, international school,” says Jason Hull, Nawa’s Director of Development. Hull also serves as Nawa’s Summer Director and is in charge of the campus’ adventure summer school, a four-week program combining academics and outdoor adventure.

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Rowan‘s constant presence on campus is just one indication of Nawa’s unique academic environment, a school that offers students both a campus learning program and a nine-month international studies option that alternates time on campus with 10- to 17-day international travel. The 2009/2010 class schedule includes trips to Peru, India, Chile, Yucatan and China. Students in the international program focus on language arts and humanities while traveling (coffee shops, airport terminals, parks and living rooms often double as classrooms) and math and science while on campus. The international program “looks different, feels different and students do well,” according to Hull.

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Even pure campus academics are experiential, the focus on “learning through doing,” a commitment to knowing the students and tailoring academics to their individual learning modalities and differences. The academics are so specialized that outcomes are often crossed between educators. If a student isn’t reaching a benchmark in a subject area, the same benchmark can be approached from a different direction in another subject. And instead of standardized tests, Nawa has other ways of measuring propensity for a subject, such as the ability to order food and count money in Spanish or a student’s use of mathematics to build a bench, make a solar cooker or calculate the trajectory of a potato gun.

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In addition to academics, students are encouraged to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, develop leadership skills in the California Youth and Government Program (Nawa is the only boarding school with a delegation) and engage in community development projects including disaster relief, forestry and work with local organizations. Nawa’s most unique feature is its accessibility to natural spaces that allows students to backpack, camp, ski and snowboard.

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David Hull, Nawa’s executive director, recalls a student that even he, always optimistic about his students’ abilities and potential, thought would have trouble succeeding at Nawa. It was this young man’s last academic resort. He was very shy, with no social skills with adults or other students. A stroke at 14 years old left him with no memory, a slouch, instability and no use of his left arm.

But after three years at Nawa, he was playing baseball, learning to swing with his right arm and  academically successful. He earned an opportunity to enroll in the international program and eventually gained use of his left hand.

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This student is an extreme success story, but not surprising for a school with a 90 percent college attendance rate, achieved through a high student/teacher ratio and an approach that emphasizes hands-on experience, critical thinking, and advanced reading and writing. Incredible vistas, wide-open spaces and swimming in Clear Creek don’t hurt either.

To learn more about Nawa Academy, visit nawaacademy.org.

Adam Mankoski is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner own HawkMan Studios and are the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday ArtHop. Reach Adam at adamm.anewscafe@gmail.com.

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is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner are the owners of HawkMan Studios and the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday Art Hop.
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