Ojai Valley School: A unique outdoors experience in Southern California


Encounters with nature can provide lessons that can’t be found in textbooks. Beneath waterfalls or beyond mountain slopes, students can contemplate the larger issues in life, all the while gaining an acute understanding of the wider environment. Whether they’re hiking, camping, or performing restoration work, they build character and learn the virtues of teamwork – all while having a whole heap of fun!

Of course, academic performance is also important, and many schools struggle to find balance between these two worlds — academic and experiential.

Still, there’s a school in the western United States — Ojai Valley School — that’s 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. Comprehensive in breadth, it offers education from pre-kindergarten all the way through to high school. The Ojai motto, Integer Vitae, meaning “wholeness of life” or “symmetry of life,” embodies its commitment to producing well-rounded individuals.

One way they do this is through hands-on learning experiences that take advantage of the school’s unique setting in Southern California. Located just 30 minutes from the Pacific Ocean, the school is surrounded by Los Padres National Forest. Students are offered numerous opportunities through the outdoor program for backpacking, rock climbing, mountaineering, kayaking, river rafting and camping trips. This fall, they have explored Yosemite, Sequoia, Joshua Tree, and Channel Islands national parks, and have even taken frequent trips to local beaches to cash in on the surf.

In addition to these adventures, Ojai Valley School students are deepening their commitment to sustainability by working alongside wildlife biologists to help restore native plant species on two islands in the Channel Islands National Park. The restoration is the direct result of a developing partnership between the school and the Park.

Together, Ojai Valley School and the park’s service secured a federal “Hands on the Land” grant, part of a national effort to connect students, teachers and volunteers with public lands and waterways. OVS was one of 22 institutions in the nation to receive the grant, which has funded trips to the remote islands for restoration work and environmental science. Students use the islands as living laboratories – working on-site in nurseries, removing invasive vegetation, and gathering and compiling plant restoration data.

Not only has the grant provided unforgettable opportunities for students to learn about the islands and their ecosystems, its objectives dovetail with the AP Environmental Science curriculum and the school’s long-standing commitment to practical learning. OVS students have developed a passion to pursue environmental education and activism through such projects and the school’s unique outdoor program. In recent years, OVS graduates have gone on to pursue environmental science, environmental studies, and resource management degrees at universities including Dickinson College, Cal State Monterey Bay, and Stony Brook University.

As a college-prep school, Ojai Valley offers a diverse and challenging academic program that emphasizes critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, creativity, and collaboration. Classes are impressively small, averaging just 12 students each, ensuring every student receives the attention 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 students to complete one full year of fine arts to graduate. Student may learn everything from drawing to music theory and composition to ceramics, photography and 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 musical, and beyond. 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, archery or knitting, 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 equipped for the future ahead.

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The article is sponsored by Ojai Valley School. Established in 1911 and located in Ojai, California, the school offers comprehensive education from pre-kindergarten to high school age. 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.

All images courtesy of Ojai Valley School

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