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Alternative Education

group of climbing academy students

Pushing boundaries through exploration

by Lily Wolfe (’18)

Last year, high school teacher Robin Hill (Honors ’10) spent more nights in a tent than in a bed—and almost as much time rock climbing as he did teaching. How? Robin is the program director at The Climbing Academy, an international-travel high school for rock climbers with only five teachers and 10 students.

Robin’s love for climbing developed while at Westminster. He worked at the climbing wall all four years of his academic career and became engaged with the outdoor community. “Westminster was a nice blend between academics and outdoor adventure,” Robin says. “I really found my stride there.”

Robin studied economics but was interested in how the educa­tion system is set up to support the economy. “I learned pretty early on of the disconnect between the kind of jobs a creative, fast-moving society needs and our education system that doesn’t necessarily support that kind of creativity and innovation,” he says.

After getting a master’s degree in education administration and policies at Stanford University, Robin didn’t want to teach at a traditional school. “I was looking to get involved with alternative education that engages students in a more holistic way,” Robin says. He worked at various youth organizations and charter schools until landing a position with The Climbing Academy.

Robin teaches a range of subjects, including government, liter­ature, Spanish, and calculus. In addition to wearing many hats in the classroom, Robin also acts as a rock-climbing coach, mentor, and driver, and is responsible for the logistics of trips.

“The biggest challenge for our staff is to seamlessly transition between different types of roles,” Robin says. “One moment you are a teacher, the next moment you are watching a movie, and then the next moment there’s a safety issue and you have to put on that hat.”

While traveling around the world teaching high school stu­dents life and rock-climbing skills can be challenging, Robin is fostering relationships that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional classroom setting. “There is a missed opportunity for mentor­ship and social-emotional learning that, in my mind, is one of the more meaningful aspects of education,” Robin says.

During the 2016–17 school year, Robin traveled with his stu­dents to Spain, Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, and California. This year, they have spent eight weeks in the Rodellar region of Spain and will go to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky before end­ing the year in Greece.

The Climbing Academy provides significant support with the curriculum, however, it is up to Robin and the other teachers to make learning an engaging, think-outside-the-box process. “It’s nice to be able to blend something the kids are passionate about with skills that can be applied in the classroom and in everyday life, such as perseverance, patience, and determination,” Robin says.

Robin is creating a pipeline of talented students for Westminster. Three of Robin’s graduates currently attend Westminster as first-year students. “I pretty shamelessly promote Westminster to my seniors at the Academy,” he said.



About the Westminster Review

The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.