Whitewater Classroom: Students Start School on the River

Pencils, paper, classrooms and new schedules…When you think of the first day back to school, what comes to mind? For some 50 high school students, their first day was anything but typical: ninth through twelfth graders at Mount Madonna School (MMS) toted sleeping bags and swimsuits. The occasion? Four days of whitewater rafting, camping and teamwork along Northern California’s rugged American River.

“The rafting trip is a time for students to come together, share summer stories and be seen for the growth and changes they have made,” said PK McDonald (’04), a longtime MMS teacher and trip leader. “It is a time for new students to build relationships that span beyond their immediate classmates and form foundations of friendship. It is an opportunity for faculty to build trust with students that will translate to positive experiences in their classes. The risks that are faced are a catalyst for teamwork, trust and lasting meaningful friendships.

“It was incredible to see students who were afraid of heights take huge leaps and for students with limited experience in the water, conquer their fears and smile as they rode torrential rapids,” he continued. “Now, as classes begin, we have set the tone as a caring community, where students continue to take risks and grow.”

Over the course of the trip, students connected across the grades to prepare healthy and delicious meals for one another, and took turns helping with cleanup. Beyond this responsibility to the broader group, improvisation, fun and playful creativity also played a significant role.

“Our talent show was a trip highlight,” shared trip leader and performing arts teacher, Chelsea Otterness. “I loved seeing students from different grades come together to create unique performances for the whole group on our last night together.  The chaperones really got into it too, we all felt it was a safe place to explore our creative sides and entertain one another in the beautiful natural setting.”

Mount Madonna School supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The school offers a well-rounded academic program that meets the highest standards of college preparedness, an exceptional performing arts program, athletics, visual arts and philosophy classes. The travel-study program provides academic enrichment, opportunities for leadership, self-discipline, reflection and critical thinking.

While MMS’ high school program is highly successful in terms of the universities that its graduates attend, the school’s definition of success is not limited to this accomplishment, and also includes how prepared its graduates are to achieve their goals and work effectively with others in service to society.



Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing and communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 380 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believes a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.