Charlton Perry, director of outdoor education, believes our physical campus is St. Stephen’s greatest asset. “In addition to being a great resource for teaching, recreation and contemplation, its beauty is unparalleled,” he said.
For Perry, whose myriad wilderness program and land management responsibilities revolve around getting students outside, the current remote learning model has challenged him to think up new ways to spread his gospel of the land. Soon after teachers and staff started gearing up for the new academic year, Perry began inviting small, physically distanced groups of employees to join him for tours of our 370-acre campus. A number of faculty and staff have eagerly signed up to learn more about our unique campus environment. Most participants have been interested in way-finding and learning about the flora, fauna, geology and history of the land.
“One can find about any type of outdoor setting on campus, from stunning and inspirational to cozy and intimate,” Perry noted. “The topographical variation on campus is complemented by ecological variety — from the semi-tropical canyon near lake level up to the semi-arid, scrub-covered hills and from flat, smooth dirt trails, up to rough, rocky climbs.
“There are three spots that tend to get great reactions out of newcomers: the bottom of Devil's Canyon (a.k.a., the Gulch) with its waterfalls, flowstone and maiden-hair ferns; the point above the mouth of Devil's Canyon above Lake Austin near the Juniper Trail trailhead; and the top of the trail near the water tower,” he said.
Yet, Perry did not arrange these tours just to share spectacular views with his peers. “At the simplest level, it can be a welcome diversion from the classroom,” he said. “However, it can also be an opportunity to understand our place in the world and how geography and geology shape culture.
“Thoughtfully including our land in the curriculum enriches education,” he added. “Economic activity, culture and history are all linked to land. Studying this will give students a greater understanding of the world and their place in it.”
Perry also knows that spending time outdoors can help improve students’ academic performance and emotional health. “It's hard to overestimate the impact that being in this setting has on our emotional well-being,” he said. “Spending time in nature and trying to understand it builds a sense of empathy and community. This school community is inextricably linked to this campus and setting. Our parcel of the Hill Country defines us as much as our mission statement.”