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Voyageur Outward Bound School
Working to change lives through challenge and discovery, Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS) helps students of all ages and walks of life discover and develop a strength of character, an ability to lead, and a desire to serve others.
Kurt Hahn founded Outward Bound in 1941 in response to a dire need to build tenacity and camaraderie in young British sailors. Hahn designed a program of increasing challenge and skill mastery to teach young sailors that they could persevere through difficulty, that they were resilient in the face of danger, and that they could survive even the most terrifying of situations.
While today’s risks are different than surviving the cold North Sea in a tiny lifeboat, many teens who participate in Outward Bound are in dire need of the same perseverance and stamina that Hahn’s sailors learned through the sea in the 1940s.
More than 70 years later, Minnesota’s Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS) continues to use Hahn’s model of progressive, experiential, outdoor challenge to build key social and emotional traits.
Saint Paul, MN
Number of Full-Time Staff
African American boys ages 14-18
About the Program
The Strive Forward program has three interwoven components. The progression of each element builds on different skills throughout the academic year.
Insight Programs - During the school year the students participate in eight Insight programs offered once a month. Insight programs are daylong outdoor, wilderness, or urban adventure programs such as the high ropes course, canoeing, rock climbing, or orienteering. Each program has a different learning outcome like decision-making, communication, compassion, collaboration or goal setting.
Launch Programs - Launch programs occur monthly, two weeks after each Insight program. VOBS staff meet with the youth at their school for two hours. During this time, staff facilitate a reflection of the most recent Insight program and prepare the youth for the next one. As they process these experiences, staff help the students understand how to apply the skills they are learning during programs to their schoolwork and life.
VOBS Peer Leadership Course - Students embark on two intensive Peer Leadership Expeditions, one in the spring and one in the fall. These four to seven-day courses take place in the wilderness and require determination, perseverance, and communication to reinforce the group’s collaboration and relationships.
In addition to the content creating a set of intentional experiences over the course of the offering, VOBS uses three phases to create a graduated level of responsibility for youth. The three phases are stretched out over the year, with youth spending roughly three months in each phase, but progressing through them at their own pace.
Training (Learning) Phase - The entire content in the training phase is highly structured. Students are not yet expected to take on a great deal of responsibility and staff maintain a highly hands-on presence.
Main (Leadership) Phase - Students gain independence and take on increased task responsibility; however, supervision is still structured and present.
Final (Responsibility) Phase - Students take on the highest level of responsibility and independence in this phase. Instructors are present primarily to ensure that the group is both physically and emotionally safe as they work to achieve their goals. At the end of the program year, a formal graduation ceremony commemorates the transitions youth have made
Each Strive Forward program—Launch, Insight, and Expedition— is put together with the Outward Bound design principles in mind:
- Learning through experience
- Incorporating challenge and adventure
- Creating a supportive environment, physically and emotionally
About the Staff
VOBS staff are key to the success of the Strive Forward program. VOBS hires staff because of who they are as educators, the youth development skills they possess, and the technical competencies needed to facilitate physically and emotionally safe programs. Staff receive a minimum of 25-30 days of training annually. Senior colleagues continually mentor and train staff based on a model of advancement and responsibility. Staff training is broken down into two components: travel training and all-staff orientation. Travel training focuses primarily on the technical, programmatic, and wilderness skills the staff need to facilitate physically safe experiences.
Throughout the four and a half days of all-staff orientation, staff spend a minimum of six hours in student management and skills training. This is a core element of VOBS training, during which staff learn about VOBS history, course structure, management issues and tactics, and how to build a group culture that supports desired objectives. The student management skills training has a four year progression that grows as the staff grow in competency.
To read more about how Voyageur Outward Bound School implements social and emotional learning, download their case narrative here.