Team Academy introduces experiential learning to Archie Williams

Ingrid Houtkooper

Trekking through weather ranging from rain, snow and shine, the 2019 Team Program hauled their bags across the Sierras, dragging their legs beneath them as they approached their final miles of the trip. Exhausted yet resilient, the group piled together to listen as one of their fellow Team members gave a passionate speech. Describing the strength of the group and everything they accomplished, he inspired the group to chant “motivate, motivate, motivate” as they trekked their way down the mountain. Team teacher, Diana Goldberg, admired the change in his attitude from a once timid kid to an encouraging leader — something she credits to the Team Program. 

The Team Program is an experiential learning model that approaches learning from a nature-based perspective and hands-on environment. The program was previously held at Tamiscal High School for all students in the Tamalpais Union High School District, but was cut due to budget deficits in May of 2020. Starting this year, the Team Program was relaunched as the Team Academy at Archie Williams High School. 

Goldberg says the relationships built in the program, as well as the difference in learning Team provides, can really change a student’s perspective and attitude towards education. 

“It’s the close-knit community mixed with experiential education that allows [the Team Academy] to transform into something really different than anyone’s experienced in their K through 12 education,” Goldberg said. 

 Students in the academy take three or four classes within the Team Program, and then spend the rest of their periods in regular Archie Williams classes. The classes offered within Team are English, leadership, wilderness medicine and an optional seventh period devoted to community service and internships.

As for the nature immersion part of the class, they go on several backpacking trips throughout the year and go on class hikes every few Fridays. Additionally, the teachers try to implement nature into each subject. 

“They’re doing English with me, which

Focusing intently on the path ahead, Maguire and friends steadily hike down the mountain. (Photo courtesy of Magdalena Maguire)

is the required English they’ll take for junior and senior year,” Goldberg said. “But I adapt some of the curriculum around nature writing and thinking about whose land we’re walking on, and reading from indigenous authors to get a variety of both reading and writing experiences around nature.”

Goldberg also emphasized that the Team Academy is working to make the outdoors a more accessible place for people who may not be as privileged to experience it.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge the privilege and whiteness of the outdoor industry: how expensive outdoor gear is, the history of national parks and taking away indigenous lands. We want to help steer the conversation to inclusion in the outdoors,” Goldberg said. “A lot of people say all you need [to backpack] is what is on your back, but that backpack is like $300. Team gives students an experience that they don’t have to pay a dime to get. We will provide any and all gear that you need. We want to make the program as inclusive as possible, while also acknowledging we’re running this program in a pretty white and affluent district in which some families have had access to nature for a lot of their lives, and some have had none.”

Beyond academics, the program also helps students find their passions by getting hands-on work experience outside the classroom. Redwood alumni Pearl Thompson, who graduated in 2021 and participated in the Team Program’s last year at Tamiscal, said that the community service and internship aspect really appealed to her. 

“For my internship I did Surfrider, which was amazing and got me [interested in] ocean acidification. The Surfrider Marin chapter actually sent me to Washington D.C. to speak with Congress about ocean protection — which was awesome. I got to meet this crazy group of people, which got me really psyched on continuing on that path,” Thompson said. 

Opportunities like these give students a better understanding of the world around them, and prepare them for what they might be interested in after high school. 

Although the Archie Williams’ model is more immersed in a typical school setting than it was at Tamiscal, it still provides a special experience. 

“I was worried students wouldn’t get the same magic with this new model, but within a few days, students were like, ‘This feels like summer camp. I feel connected to my peers and my teachers more than I’ve ever felt,’” Goldberg said. “Anybody, regardless of nature or wilderness experience, can thrive in this program. Education isn’t just about the required curriculum: it’s about how we grow and learn as teammates, and learn from the wilderness and experiences outside the classroom.”

Outside of the educational opportunities, the Team Program also provides students with an alternative learning environment that many kids might find more approachable than the typical path. Magdalena Maguire, who works in the Wellness Center at Redwood and is an Archie Williams alumnus, participated in the Team Program when she was in high school. Maguire mentioned that a lot of students today likely wouldn’t want to participate due to the lack of Advanced Placement (AP) classes. However, she says that the authenticity and uniqueness of the program makes up for the absence of AP’s in a lot of ways. 

“The wilderness is such a perfect place for self exploration and growth, and I think being in the wilderness with a community of people bonds you in ways that just can’t happen inside of a school,” Maguire said. “Backpacking just does something really special for teens and kids.”

Getting into the wilderness, off of electronics and out of Marin County’s competitive environment can be an extremely transformative experience for many people — one that Maguire said completely changed her. 

Tirelessly backpacking up the Sierras, Maguire stops to snap a selfie.

“Before Team I was pretty sad, pretty unmotivated, pretty uninspired. Then, after leaving and throughout the course, I was like, there’s a whole community of people that are just full of life and really excited,” Maguire said. “Throughout the course of the program I gained a community that has lasted, I gained a big sense of myself and I gained a huge love of the wilderness. These are really hard times [for teens] and nobody blames them.”

Although high school can be a stressful environment for many students, programs like Team can help to limit students’ stress and introduce them to a different approach to learning. 

“[Today] there’s a big focus on brain breaks, and trauma informed education practices, and this program was doing all of those things 15 years ago, just by having a more comfortable, community centered education,” Maguire said.