Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs kayaker Errik Hill is about to embark on a journey few high school juniors ever get the chance to experience.
The cool thing is that he won’t have to leave the classroom for the unique learning experience. That’s because the classrooms of the New River Academy seem to have no walls.
Hill lives in Steamboat Springs when he isn’t attending classes at the New River Academy, a secondary school based in West Virginia that offers accredited college-preparatory courses with an extracurricular focus on whitewater kayaking.
Students at the school attend classes in West Virginia, Canada, Chile and this year, Uganda.
Hill said he spent last quarter studying and paddling in Chile, and he is scheduled to leave this morning for a six-week field trip to Uganda.
During his time in the African country, he will study and live in the small town of Jinja on the island of Hairy Lemon, but will spend plenty of time on the water with his classmates and traveling to other nearby locations.
Hill said that his family moved to Steamboat about five years ago and that he was introduced to kayaking by Jim Linville, a teacher at The Lowell Whiteman School, and local kayaker Dan Piano.
Piano, who owns Downriver Edge Kayaking, said Hill came to his school a few years ago to learn the fundamentals of kayaking.
“It’s great. The idea that he gets the chance to kayak on the White Nile makes me kind of jealous,” Piano said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to experience Africa, and I hear the kayaking is pretty good, too.”
Hill said he is not sure what to expect from the trip but is looking forward to the chance to travel in Africa and take in the local customs while paddling in the world-class whitewater.
“It would be great to be a pro (kayaker) someday, but who knows,” Hill said. “I just love to kayak.”
He said this experience is special because there are plans to build a dam on that stretch of the White Nile in the next few years, which will change the river flow and affect life along that part of the river.
“I’m excited that we will have the chance to paddle that river before it changes,” he said. “It will also be great to learn from the people in that region and what the changes will mean to them.”
Students at the New River Academy travel across the United States and the world in search of world-class kayaking. But that doesn’t mean the students are not working in the classroom, as well.
Classes typically are two to three students per teacher, and those students are expected to maintain a high level of achievement in the classroom.
Hill said kayaking typically is restricted to the afternoon hours, after class has finished for the day. But students also are exposed to real-world classrooms and experiences through travel.
This quarter will take the school’s 16 students to Uganda and Tanzania, where they will take a weeklong safari and learn about wildlife and animal habitats.
When the quarter ends, the students will take spring break before returning to West Virginia.