Experiential Education


The mission of the Experiential Education Department is to Explore the unknown, Learn by doing, Lead by example, and Cultivate life-long learning.

At the core of an Overlake education is the ability to step outside the familiar, immerse in the unknown, and learn by doing. Experiential education happens when students engage in thoughtful, interactive, and authentic experiences and follow these experiences with reflection and critical analysis. By doing so, students develop relationships to self, others, and the world around them, and they are able to transfer their learning to future activities. Students must also take initiative and appropriate risks, make decisions and assume responsibility, celebrate success and embrace failure, and develop empathy for oneself and others. These principles are the basis for Overlake’s experiential education programs. Students will have the opportunity to engage in these experiences in both Middle School and Upper School, and through academic classes offered in the Upper School.

Signature Programs

Outdoor Education

Overlake outdoor education programs emphasize cooperation, perseverance, judgment, and leadership by creating an experience in which wilderness activities challenge students to take healthy risks, to be in an environment where they need to take responsibility for their own actions, and to cooperate with others. Whether students are backpacking, snowshoeing, or sea kayaking, they will also develop an appreciation for the natural environment and learn the skills necessary to undertake various activities in the outdoors. 

Service Learning

Overlake’s service-learning program supports the school’s mission of fostering responsibility and cultivating compassion for others by introducing students to the complex needs of their local community. Students are invited to collaborate with non-profit organizations and encouraged to develop a passion for service by pursuing opportunities in areas of personal interest. By engaging in service opportunities such as facing poverty and hunger or environmental stewardship, students reflect on their experience and gain a better understanding of their role as responsible, caring citizens.

Project Week

Project Week courses are as varied as the students who participate in them, and Overlake sets this time aside to recognize the many educational experiences that take place outside the classroom. These experiences may involve projects in areas such as the Arts, Sciences, Service or the outdoors and can happen locally, domestically, or internationally, but all uniformly provide personal challenge, attend to group process, and engage students in meaningful reflection. Students also participate in group reflection in order to present their learnings to the greater community.

Ethical Leadership

Experiential Education
Semester elective - Fall

This course will explore the central concept of ethical leadership. Because this is a complex topic, students will wrestle with the uncertainty and ambiguity that accompany any discussion of morality. Students will work introspectively to examine their personal leadership styles in order to gain a better understanding of their own extrinsic and intrinsic motivations before looking outward. Students will also take an interdisciplinary approach to explore the concept of ethical leadership by examining wider perspectives that will be gained through reading theory and case studies. As we unpack the concept of ethical leadership by looking at ourselves and others, we will explore several defining questions, including:

  • How does ethical leadership apply to my life presently, as well as in my future?
  • What are the responsibilities of leaders to establish ethical climates in their organizations and communities, and what are the tensions between these two spheres? 
  • What is the role of emotional intelligence and empathy in a leader’s decision-making and how does compassion connect with morality and ethical decision-making?

Students will develop a toolbox they can reach for when faced with ethically complex challenges in their lives beyond the classroom. Ultimately, this course will push students to better understand the pathways through which they are already making ethical decisions, and as they reflect and learn, they will start to think about ethical leadership in deeper, more complex ways. Life is about navigating the gray areas—the complexities that don’t have a clear one-size-fits-all answer—and this class will foster an ethical fitness in students to help build their propensity for not just working their way through that ambiguity, but for leading others in that process.

This class will feature a highly interactive learning environment, requiring students to reflect, take risks, and actively engage in class activities and discussion each day. There will be a term long leadership internship with middle school teachers culminating in a written capstone/presentation of the students' leadership statement. There is a degree of risk-taking involved in being a leader that students will gain experience with through the format of this class.

Theory and Practice of Social Change

Experiential Education
Semester elective - Spring

*for students in graduation classes of 2023-2024, you will receive 30 hours of community service towards your graduation requirment

This course will prepare students to be thoughtful and effective agents of change within organizations and communities. Through theoretical foundations, skill building, and practical application of social change theory in community settings, students will explore the following questions: 

  • What is the history of the non-profit sector in the United States, and how has that history shaped social change work today? What are the limitations of non-profit organizations in the advancement of justice? 

  • Besides the non-profit sector, in what other contexts do social change movements operate? What strategies do movements employ and to what effect? 

  • How do my social identities and personal narratives impact my perspectives, realities, and worldviews? How do they impact my role in social change work? 

Students will navigate these questions by learning from legacies of social change-makers, collaborating with community-based groups/organizations, engaging in dialogue with each other, and developing a reflexive practice (attending to the cultural, political, social, and ideological origins of one’s own perspective and voice). 

Students will be required to participate in a two-day community engagement field trip during school hours, TBD days in January, 2024, followed by deeper engagement with one organization throughout the semester. This course both uses and questions best practices in “service-learning,” including identifying issues of reciprocity, cultural humility, power relationships, and links to classroom learning. Students will demonstrate skills and habits of reflection through observation, critical analysis, writing, and engaging with others in supportive discourse. Students will engage with a diversity of texts and experts in the social change field, examine community opportunities and solutions of personal relevance, and reflect on their own past and present experiences of social change within various spheres of life, including families, neighborhoods, communities, schools, and other systems.  

Outdoor Education

Experiential Education
Semester elective - Fall
*Also completes a PE elective
Note: There will be additional costs to cover equipment rental, food, and the use of off-site facilities.

The Outdoor Education course allows students to immerse themselves in various outdoor activities, promoting personal growth, teamwork, and a deeper connection with nature. Through a blend of hands-on experiences, theoretical learning, and practical skills development, students will explore the joys and challenges inherent in outdoor adventure. Over the duration of the course, students will examine the historical and societal significance of outdoor activities, alongside their environmental impact, while also gaining insight into the benefits of outdoor recreation for individuals and communities.

Students will acquire skills such as hiking, camping, paddling, and wilderness first aid. A standout feature of the course is the opportunity for students aged 16 and older to attain a NOLS Wilderness First Aid (WFA) certification, valid for two years. This certification enhances students' resumes in various work opportunities and equips them with tools for managing emergencies in wilderness settings.

The course requires weekend activities, including four day-trips for hiking and paddling, and a backpacking trip scheduled from October 9th to 12th, 2024, and an additional 16-hour NOLS Wilderness First Aid certification session on December 7th and 8th, 2024.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Develop Outdoor Skills: Students will acquire fundamental outdoor skills, including navigation, trip planning, outdoor cooking, and wilderness first aid.

2. Promote Physical Fitness: Engaging in outdoor pursuits will enhance students' physical fitness, endurance, and overall well-being, fostering a healthier lifestyle.

3. Foster Environmental Awareness: Students will gain an understanding of environmental principles, conservation ethics, and the impact of human activities on natural ecosystems, fostering a sense of responsibility toward the environment.

4. Enhance Teamwork and Leadership: Participation in group-based outdoor activities will cultivate teamwork, communication, and leadership skills as students collaborate to solve challenges, make decisions, and support one another in achieving common goals.

5. Cultivate Personal Growth: Stepping out of their comfort zones, overcoming obstacles, and developing resilience, self-confidence, and a sense of accomplishment through outdoor experiences will facilitate personal growth among students.

6. Promote Risk Management: Students will learn to assess risks and make informed decisions in outdoor environments, developing critical thinking and decision-making skills applicable to various life situations.


José Gonzalez
Experiential Education Department Chair