Signature Programs

Athenian Wilderness Experience (AWE)

At The Athenian School, we are committed to developing teamwork, personal and community responsibility, self-reflection, compassion, and resilience in our students. Kurt Hahn’s philosophy that, “there is more in you than you know,” is a critical element of their success in life.

One of the opportunities an Athenian student has to enhance these qualities is on the Athenian Wilderness Experience (AWE). You and a small group of your classmates will explore the beauty and enchantment of either the High Sierra mountains or the Death Valley desert during your junior year. Working together to navigate off-trail terrain, cook group meals, rock climb, and set up camp, we hope you will come to appreciate the freedom from technology, routine, homework, and other responsibilities while learning how to care for yourself, collaborate, problem-solve, empathize, and believe in yourself and others. Twice a year, the campus is reinvigorated by the AWE participants' positive energy, enthusiasm, wonder, self-awareness, and openness. We invite you to participate in the ceremonial end of their adventure to see for yourself the transformative experience that is AWE. Check the school calendar in March and August for "Run-In'' specifics.

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. The program has been a part of the school's curriculum since 1969. Dyke Brown, the founder of The Athenian School, based the school's mission on his experiences with Kurt Hahn and Kurt Hahn's philosophy that produced Round Square, United World Colleges, the Gordonstoun School and Outward Bound to name a few. Hahn encouraged outdoor adventure as a way to engender responsible community participation, greater sense of compassion, self-discovery, physical fitness and self-reliance. The program is invested in students developing mature communication and decision-making skills. 
  • What is the course itinerary?

    An AWE course breaks down into the following components:

    Training Phase Days 1-8
    An intensive period that involves learning new skills. The course curriculum is designed for a beginner student with no previous camping experience, but can be tailored for those with prior knowledge. Instructors provide intensive instruction in each of the skill areas. They teach and monitor, then expect students to begin utilizing what they’ve learned and to take on more and more responsibility  to assist one another.

    Main Phase Days 9- “Solo”

    Instructors step back from the decision-making process to allow students to take ownership for decision making and care of themselves and each other in the outdoor environment. Instructors serve in an advisory role and continue to teach a more in-depth curriculum.

    Solo 3 Day Period after the Main Phase

    An unique opportunity for individual reflection away from disruptions and distractions. Students are provided their own mini campsite, in very close proximity to instructors and other students. Each student has food, water, and shelter and is monitored by instructors multiple times per day. This component can be altered depending on student need.

    Independent Student Travel Phase Final 3-5 Days of the Course

    Students take full ownership of course functioning and outcomes while closely ‘shadowed’ by instructors. Students often report this as one of the highlights of the course. The implementation of this  phase is dependent on group well-being and other factors [such as weather].
  • Who supports the student groups?

    Instructors 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, other 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 Program Directors and adult Logistics staff. This group is collectively referred to as “Logistics”. In addition, senior student volunteers are invited to help the adult logistical team. There are many details that this crew attends to in order to make a course run smoothly. The logistics crew supports all groups and is not with any one group exclusively.

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