Stages of Community Development: A Mountaineering Approach

Alzar School | 14.10.20

Each semester, students work hard to progress through the Stages of Community Development: 1) Basecamp, 2) Ridgeline, and 3) Summit. Inspired by tenacious mountaineering pursuits, this model brings our community to new heights! Each stage poses a different set of criteria for students to demonstrate in order to successfully ascend. At times, groups have needed to descend, reacclimating in more familiar terrain. Many have quite cohesively trekked slowly and surely forward, ensuring that all cohort members are not only surviving, but thriving within the mountaineering metaphor that is communal living. Semester Seventeen’s experiences have been both similar and wildly unique. 

View to a ridgeline along the Main Salmon River.

This semester’s students have faced a novel set of challenges, including prior to arriving on campus! Just as in the Himalayan mountains, external factors such as snow and wind and jet stream dynamics have complicated their journey. Here at Alzar School, students and families made a potentially difficult decision as to whether or not they wished to attend an in-person semester. Then, they self-isolated prior to departure from home communities. All this is to say that Semester Seventeen students strode into the Basecamp Stage with heavy baggage and all sorts of pent-up energy. Not only were they committing to an intense semester at Alzar School, but were doing so amid a global pandemic. After arrival, students participated in outdoor classes for over two weeks, donned masks throughout the day, and learned a number of new active policies for maintaining health and safety in the Basecamp Stage and beyond. 

Additionally, Semester Seventeen dealt with the more typical Basecamp challenges of maintaining an adequate attendance record as a group, paying close attention to detail when completing community tasks, such as cleaning the dining hall, and remaining quiet after lights out. Last week, the current cohort reflected on the growth they have made in regards to said challenges. 

Students enjoying lunch together.

Leaders of the Week sought input from peers and feedback from staff, then facilitated a dialogue at our weekly Community Meeting. They assessed the pitch and decided to send it towards the Ridgeline Stage. Students highlighted positive changes in group dynamics before and after the first block of expeditions, huge improvements on timely attendance, and a strength in terms of yurt cleanliness. In order for this send to stick, it was essential that students noted the benefits brought to the community through the recent talent show they planned and executed. Students were also sure to remind staff members that their cohort has so-far avoided any major behavioral incidents.

Staff inquired. Peers commented. Teachers deliberated…

Students rejoice at ascending to the Ridgeline Stage.

And students rejoiced! Their push towards Ridgeline was worthy. The notorious Mervin, Dean of Students, Michael Ervin, released their cellular devices. Leaders of the Week and Weekend now have added flexibility for scheduling movie nights, as well as more autonomy in planning events for the weekend. Plus, students can opt to check-out to study from their yurts during free periods throughout the school day. 

We are all excited to see new opportunities blossoming along the Ridgeline journey. As students acclimate to this new height, we will continue to reflect and grow, taking care of ourselves and each other as we meander, together…with the summit in sight.