PAA’s Class Challenges Teach Character

October 28, 2014 | Liesl Vistaunet

“Besides introducing our students to Jesus Christ, character development is one of our most important goals,” says Monte Torkelsen, Portland Adventist Academy chaplain. “It means we seek to intentionally develop core character traits in our students that reflect and lift up Christ.”

PAA developed class adventures, challenges and retreats as tools to teach courage, leadership, integrity, curiosity, concern and belief. These traits are the focus of each event, and they continue to be emphasized throughout the year.

The events happen early in the school year, offering a firm foundation for a great year. Each class, as a group, leaves the city and all their electronic gadgets behind to retreat to the wilderness. Through mountaineering, ropes courses, rock climbing, and navigating carefully planned obstacle courses and mind-bending puzzles, students learn life skills and bond with each other. Courses are taught and led by PAA staff, upperclassman mentors and certified mountaineering guides.

Thoughtfully planned, every year’s event builds upon the next. Freshmen spend a day learning about trust and courage through a ropes course. As sophomores, they explore the themes of teamwork, creativity, concern, solitude and reflection, and vision during a weekend in the mountains.

By the time PAA students are juniors, they are ready for a more mature look at courage, strategic planning, group leadership, "followership" and respect, creativity, and solitude and reflection.

Finally, PAA seniors are instructed in integrity, judgment, strategic goal-setting and community. “These traits are about being who you are and who you really want to be, making the right choice at the right time, planning for the future, and connecting with God and each other," says Torkelsen.

“The junior challenge is the hard one,” says Ty Johnson, PAA vice principal. “For some of these kids, it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done. This year, it was the girls who stood out. They quickly realized they couldn’t complete a challenge on their own and how important it was they connect with each other to finish a task. Their dynamics were impressive to watch.” 

Johnson also loves seeing the sense of accomplishment and pride in the students when they complete their final challenge. “As you watch the kids climb that last mountain then look down into the valley, across the hills and river, and the cliffs they’ve climbed, it’s awesome to see them take in all they’ve worked through," he says.

“That final summit is symbolic,” says Johnson. “It’s a reminder of where they came from and what it took to reach the top. It’s a life lesson. And these are lessons we can’t teach in the classroom. You just can’t put a price on that value.”