The Academy Difference: Extended Trips

The Academy DifferenceThe Academy Difference blog series explores how our faculty integrates the 6 “Cs” of Academy at the Lakes’ Core Curriculum. Our faculty ensures “the success of each individual at school, in the community, and in the world,” by connecting every classroom experience with at least one of our 6 Cs.  To learn more, visit our website.

Character: Grades 5 – 12

It really is about joy in the journey at Academy at the Lakes – even if that journey sometimes takes students thousands of miles away from campus.


The Florida Keys; the Virginia mountains; New York City; Boston; San Francisco; Nashville: these are just some of the places Academy students have visited through the years.

These “Extended Trip” opportunities are an Academy tradition for grades 5 through 12, and give students the chance to learn, face challenges, and have fun outside of a traditional classroom setting.

Eighth graders recently returned from their Extended Trip to Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing near New Castle, Va.

For the sixth straight year, 8th graders had the chance to complete a rock wall climb, a high ropes course, a tree climb, and other challenging activities.

“These activities take a serious effort, and students push through and in the process learn that they can do something difficult with persistence,” said Middle Division Director John Pitcairn. “Every student accomplishes something that they never thought they could do, and they have the vocal support of their peers. You see students pushing each other and encouraging each other, and that’s very rewarding.”

“This is also a significant bonding experience for the students. In a focused way, they push the envelope of comfort and confidence at a time when they are making a major transition into the high school.”

Alise Lowry ’18, who is new to Academy at the Lakes this year, said: “It was an amazing experience. We did so many cool activities like trying to climb a tree, which is something I never thought I would do. It also helped me become closer with everyone and form a really tight group of friends.”

While the Virginia trip is tied to what Pitcairn terms Academy’s “hidden curriculum” of life experience, other Middle Division Extended Trips are closely aligned with the academic curriculum. Fifth and 6th graders travel to St. Augustine and Tallahassee, while 7th graders visit Sea Camp in the Florida Keys.

Like Pitcairn, Upper Division Director Bob Sullivan believes the Extended Trips have value in creating a shared student experience.

“There are bonds that students form when they are on these trips,” said Sullivan. “We do the Upper Division Extended Trip at the beginning of the year for that purpose. For those students who interact when they’re on the trip because they’re ‘forced’ to, that spills over onto the campus when they get back. In addition to the overnight retreats we do during the first weeks of school, the Extended Trip is a second chance for students to form relationships.”

This year’s Upper Division trip was to Nashville, Tenn., where highlights included visits to Vanderbilt University, Belmont University, the Country Music Hall of Fame; and the Grand Ole Opry House; a cruise on the General Jackson Riverboat; and line dancing at the Wild Horse Saloon.


While the Upper Division Extended Trips are loaded with fun activities, Sullivan’s focus is on more than just having a good time.

“This is a growth opportunity for all of them,” said Sullivan. “We don’t baby them. They’re away from their parents, they’re in another city, and things are different. It’s an introduction to what life may be like in a few years when they go to college.”

David Singh ’17, who has a special interest in music, decided to go on the trip because of Nashville’s music history.

“I learned quite a few things,” said David, who also had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to play on one of Elvis Presley’s pianos. “I also got to know some of the seniors and really had a chance to talk with them. And the whole experience definitely gave me a look ahead to what college might be like.”

Said Pitcairn: “No matter which grade level they are in, students are having real-life experiences on these trips. They learn how to travel away from home; how to travel and live with peers; and they also get to see different parts of their state or country.”

“It is absolutely joy in the journey and we’re taking the joy to a different venue and achieving it through a different experience. This is one important that way we deliver our mission statement.”