An intimate encounter with nature can offer lessons that can’t be found in a textbook. Beneath waterfalls or on the slopes of mountains, students may contemplate the larger issues in life while gaining a deep appreciation for the environment. Whether they’re hiking, surfing or camping, they build character, endurance, and determination. They gain survival skills, learn the virtues of teamwork and good communication, and they have fun doing it.
Of course, academic performance is also important. Many schools struggle to find the right balance between the two worlds — academic and experiential. The clamor over standardized tests has caused many institutions to neglect the latter.
Still, there’s a school in the United States — Ojai Valley School — that is renowned for its success in both. Established in 1911, Ojai Valley School puts progressive education and character development at the heart of its unique philosophy and practice. Comprehensive in breadth, it offers education from pre-kindergarten up to high school. The school’s famous motto Integer Vitae, meaning “wholeness of life” or “symmetry of life,” embodies its commitment to producing well-rounded individuals who can enjoy all of life’s bounties and quickly adapt to its challenges. Students can look forward to a balanced learning experience that incorporates academic rigor, technology, the arts, and personal growth.
One way they do this is through field trips and camping adventures in a slew of National Parks — like Yosemite, Sequoia, Joshua Tree, Channel Islands, Zion, Grand Canyon — and other state parks and beaches too numerous to list. Situated in a region ripe for world-class adventure, the campus is just 30 minutes from the beach and is surrounded by Los Padres National Forest. Students swim, fish, hike, bike, rock climb, river raft, kayak, surf and more. Trips and challenges are appropriately structured according to age, starting in kindergarten.
But what makes Ojai Valley students the envy of their urban peers is the school’s horses. The school has as many horses as it has riders, with a 1:1 horse-to-student ratio. Ojai Valley is one of the few equestrian boarding schools in California with stables on campus, allowing middle and high school students to take part in equestrian activities every afternoon in place of sports or P.E. classes. Additionally, students may ride to compete as members of a school team. Open to riders of all levels, the comprehensive equestrian program is overseen by seasoned instructors. Students will be taught to care for their horses, embracing compassion, patience, hard work, and responsibility.
But Ojai Valley’s emphasis on outdoor activities doesn’t mean the school neglects the 21st century. At the school’s state-of-the-art facilities, technology is integrated daily into student life both inside and outside of the classroom. The campus-wide wireless network is a boon to those conducting research and collaborative projects. All high school and middle school students, grades 6-12, bring their own laptops for assignments and lectures.
Student learning is supported by the best the modern world has to offer. Classrooms boast an impressive array of technological resources, including interactive white boards, software tools, 3D printers and computer labs. All modern operating systems are supported on campus, and students may use computers to keep in touch with friends and family via e-mail and Skype.
Ojai Valley’s facilities and outdoor education program are impressive — and so is its academic program. As a college-prep school, Ojai Valley offers a diverse and challenging curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, creativity, and collaboration. In all classes and across all grade levels, students are encouraged to discuss course material and share ideas. Classes are impressively small, averaging 12 students each, ensuring that every student is able to receive the attention and help that he or she needs from highly qualified teachers.
In accordance with its progressive outlook, Ojai Valley School also offers a strong arts curriculum — perfect for beginning to advanced artists and musicians. Thanks to its firm belief in a well-rounded education, the school requires all students to complete one full year of fine arts to graduate. Students may learn everything from drawing to music theory and composition to ceramics to photography to graphic design.
The performing arts are also an active and key part of campus culture. Students may sing in the chorus, learn improvisation in the drama club, practice hip-hop, choreograph numbers for the dance team, and more. Musical performances and dramatic productions are annually held at the school’s beautiful outdoor amphitheater and its performing arts center.
Aside from the arts, there’s still much, much more to do at Ojai Valley School. Students may join a wide array of student clubs arranged around interests like surfing, cooking, or chess, or write for the award-winning student newspaper, On the Hill. Alternatively, they may decide to run for Student Council to improve campus life and gain leadership skills. No matter the activity, Ojai Valley School is dedicated to building a strong, close-knit community of life-long learners.
The variety of options at Ojai Valley is simply astounding and a testament to the school’s guiding philosophy of a well-rounded and balanced education. Ultimately, students graduate from Ojai Valley School not as representations of letter grades, but as fully-formed thinking and feeling human beings fully equipped for the future ahead.
This article is sponsored by Ojai Valley School. Established in 1911 and located in Ojai, California, the school offers comprehensive education from pre-kindergarten up to high school. Ojai Valley embraces a unique educational philosophy that emphasizes a strong balance between academic learning, technology, the arts and personal growth. The latter is often takes the form of outdoor education – including field trips, camping, and more – that begin from the pre-kindergarten years. The school also has an impressive equestrian program, allowing students to ride horses for sport or recreation. Academic classes are small, averaging 12 students each, allowing greater interaction between students and teachers.