'Wilderness Challenge' sets NYC students free to fulfill potential

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The Tilden Campus, located in an economically struggling Brooklyn neighborhood, was notorious for violence and was scheduled to be closed by the Department of Education (DOE) in 2006. However, in 2007 the Kurt Hahn Expeditionary School opened in the same building with a new motivation for success.

Initially, it was difficult to recruit students due to the Tilden’s previous reputation. The incoming freshmen consisted of “over-the-counter” students. In other words, kids who have not chosen a high school, and as a result were placed by the DOE into under-enrolled schools such as Kurt Hahn.

With the new school came the new administration of Principal Matthew Brown who implemented culture and character building principles into Kurt Hahn. His goal was to develop student leaders who would aid in the creation of positive change. Brown also established “Five Commitments” for the new students at Kurt Hahn: courage, compassion, respect, stewardship, and perseverance.

His primary focus is on building and challenging these individuals and developing leadership skills. Brown also instituted community meetings, crew councils, a civic leadership meeting, and a NYC Outward Bound Wilderness Challenge.

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The NYC Outward Bound Wilderness Challenge is offered to all incoming freshmen as well as teachers. The trip introduces students to the school’s values and allows them to experience each commitment. Throughout the week the students are faced with a series of challenging initiatives that develop group leadership, strengthen communication skills and also emphasize individual leadership.

After this trip students and teachers return to the classroom with a better relationship with each other as well as a new motivation to achieve academically which, in many cases, was previously lacking. The trip has proved to be a success, because Kurt Hahn’s first graduating class, the Class of 2011, had a 95 percent college acceptance rate.

However, even with the Wilderness Challenge, students like Josh Davis, felt that Kurt Hahn still needed role models who would mentor young men of color. This led Davis to the founding of a program called “The Brotherhood”, in which senior males mentor incoming freshmen. The mission of The Brotherhood is to show incoming freshmen that doing well in school, and lifting up your community is both worthy of respect and “cool.”

The program seems to be working as students are becoming more involved and are succeeding academically. This year 90 percent of the incoming freshmen seats were filled before the opening of the school year.

Today, because of Davis’ outstanding leadership and commitment, he is a freshman at Medgar Evers College. Davis is also the winner of the $40,000 Nagler scholarship for the media arts work he has done through Kurt Hahn’s collaboration with Urban Arts Partnership. Davis returns to Kurt Hahn conventionally in order to insure that the program is running effectively.