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Sustainable Paths

Semester Schools Offer Environmental Immersion Alongside Academics

Secondary school students interested in other cultures sometimes spend a semester as an exchange student living in other countries. Similarly, students with a passion for the environment may want to spend a semester studying along the coast of Maine or in the Rocky Mountains. The Semester Schools Network includes a variety of programs to make this possible.

Many of these programs, which comprise half of a school year, are located in wilderness settings of incredible beauty. The mission of these specialized schools is to harness the power of nature to promote intellectual, social, and physical growth. Here, students can explore the principles of sustainable living and undertake outdoor adventures—all while connecting the subjects of math, science, history, and literature to the natural environment.

For example:

  • At the Maine Coast Semester at Chewonki, students study the ecology of salt marshes, design energy friendly buildings, and participate in the seasonal rhythms of an organic farm.
  • At the Conserve School in Wisconsin, students go backcountry camping, tap trees for maple syrup, study environmental history, and explore careers relating to conservation.
  • At the High Mountain Institute in Colorado, students develop wilderness skills on backpacking and skiing expeditions, explore the literature of the natural world, and conduct field studies on nearby elk.

The natural environment provides an outdoor classroom for hands-on learning and offers healthy challenges. As a result, these tight-knit communities build confidence, personal responsibility, and leadership skills. They also offer rigorous academics, allowing students to keep on track for honors and AP courses, even as they develop their wilderness survival skills. Elsewhere in this newsletter, Holly McGlennon Treat provides an overview of how to consider the opportunities offered by semester schools. For some environmentally minded students, such a semester would be a dream come true.

Jeremy McGeorge specializes in serving families whose children need therapeutic services as part of their educational plan. He is also Bertram's point person on sustainable education. He can be reached at