Our mission is to connect with the natural world and cultivate leaders for a just and resilient Appalachia.
“You can’t protect anything until you love it. The spirit of Mountain SOL is based in fun and adventure, so kids learn environmental stewardship and social responsibility from a place of passion.” -Jen-Osha Buysse, Mountain SOL Director
Mountain Stewardship and Outdoor Leadership School, or Mountain SOL School, was founded in 2014 as an extension of Aurora Lights, a West Virginia environmental non-profit. Since it’s beginning in 1998, Aurora Lights has been leading programs in a variety of environmental stewardship and outdoor leadership topics, and Mountain SOL School is its effort to guide our next generation on the path of environmental awareness, leadership, and building a supportive community.
Mountain SOL School is about connection- connection to oneself, connection to friends, to community, and to the greater circle of life. We strive to give students the opportunity to learn not only practical skills and knowledge such as wilderness survival skills and concepts of nature and the environment, but also teamwork, leadership, and a passion to protect the natural world and cultivate a community of support and acceptance. Our graduated students are able to use their skills to support the community, whether it’s a quick-thinking response to an unexpected emergency first aid situation, helping run a free herbal clinic, or simply offering support to our fellow humans.
Mountain SOL School currently offers three branches of programs: integrated in-school classroom programs with our partner, Morgantown Learning Academy, afterschool programs open to all local students, and summer camps also open to all local students. Additionally, we teach evening or weekend classes for both adults and older students. Our classes are hands-on and allow for unstructured time in the woods as well as experiences in stewardship and self-led exploration. We have programs in Morgantown for kids grades two through twelve, and we have opportunities for our older students to develop more advanced skills through our four paths, the graduation of which gives them an attainable goal to work towards. We also offer a track to guide students into becoming teachers of our school, mentoring and working with them using specific goals and requirements to help guide them on the journey into responsible adulthood.
Our programs teach skills and knowledge across 4 broad categories of outdoor and environmental education.
We teach Concepts of Nature:
- WV wildflower, plant and tree identification
- WV animals, their life cycles and tracks
- Food web, predator/prey interactions
- Stream and forest ecology
- Seasonal cycles of local plants, animals and climate
We teach Wilderness & Outdoor skills:
- Map-reading and navigation
- Shelter construction
- Wild edibles foraging
- Wilderness First Aid
We teach Environmental Stewardship:
- Home and community gardening
- Developing wildlife habitat
- Forest conservation
- Watershed restoration
- Species preservation
We teach Natural Fitness and Healthy Lifestyle:
- Strength and agility
- Balance and coordination
- Self-confidence and self-esteem
The above video was created during our Biodiversity Advocates for the Mountains (BAM!) program during the 2014 school year. Many thanks to the Melinda Gray Ardia Environmental Foundation for funding this program.
Mountain SOL grows from the work done by Aurora Lights, a West Virginia environmental non-profit. Since 1998 Aurora Lights has been leading programs in a variety of environmental stewardship and outdoor leadership topics. Aurora Lights originally formed in Ecuador, and since moving to West Virginia, has led “International Perspectives on Environmental Issues” for WV college students, survival and stewardship classes for high school youth, basic survival skills for elementary and middle school students, and adult education classes in wild edibles and preserving food. Aurora Lights was one of the leaders in the response to the water crisis in southern West Virginia in January 2014, organizing donations and deliveries of water and other essential needs to the small coalfield communities impacted by the coal chemical spill. To learn more about Aurora Lights’ other programs, click here.
Our Partnership with Morgantown Learning Academy:
Mountain SOL has opened in partnership with MLA and builds on the outdoor, afterschool programs that Mountain SOL Director and part-time MLA instructor Jen-Osha Buysse started in 2011. Jen has over 15 years’ experience of teaching, developing and supporting outdoor and environmental education programs that strengthen the connections between human communities and their natural environment. MLA is a non-profit, non-church affiliated, private school for children from preschool to eighth grade. To learn more about Morgantown Learning Academy, click here.
Our Sister Schools:
We are happy to be able to work with Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism and The Human Path as our sister schools. Their programs are for adults, and they have lots of wonderful online classes and resources.
The Human Path is a school based in Texas that teaches wilderness survival skills, first aid, herbalism, off-grid engineering, self-defense, and much more to adults both in their area and online. Please check out their website, https://thehumanpath.net/, if you’re interested.
Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism is a school and clinic based in Boston, Massachusetts. They teach all about how to work with herbs and offer classes for beginners as well as advanced students of herbalism, and they also run herbal clinics. It you’re interested, please visit their website, https://commonwealthherbs.com/. Also, they have a blog and a podcast!
Read about our school’s projects and updates in the Mountain SOL newsletters:
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