They live in yurts in Idaho and cabanas in Chile. They speak Spanish at dinner while they build their own burritos. They hike, kayak, ski, river raft, prepare breakfast and lunch, mingle with locals, and study AP English Language and Composition and Honors Precalculus – the latter of which involves “shifting trigonometric functions and starting a project creating an image of a kayaker running a rapid using only functions to draw the lines. Using your iPad, you create a video of the image coming together.”

If all this sounds like the plot of an action adventure movie, it’s not. It’s the Alzar School with campuses in Idaho and Chile and home for yeas for a four-month semester to several Soulsville Charter School students, including Ryah Trayhan (pictured at top), who just returned, and to Carson Gilkey, who is there now. Both went through the application process and both earned scholarships to spend four months studying, embracing the great outdoors, and learning critical thinking skills and discipline that comes from a challenging curriculum that involves more than academic subjects taught in isolation in traditional classrooms.

Carson Gilkey at Base Patagonia, Chile.

Students also give up their iPhones and WIFI and occasionally get to send messages home from Internet cafes.

According to officials with Alzar, “The power of the Alzar School experience plays out in their lives and in their communities long after they return from their semester in Idaho and Chile. We are often asked why we created Alzar School. The short answer is this: Alzar School is the type of high school we would have wanted to attend—a place where school is so much more.”

According to Ryah Trayan, who also attends the Stax Music Academy as a vocalist, “Alzar might just be heaven on Earth! It fostered a true community of positivity, friendship, hard work and love! I have never felt so genuinely inspired to better myself and my home community. It’s an experience every high school student should have!”

In a note to his parents, Carson Gilkey, who’ll be in Chile until March 5 and then on Alzar’s Idaho campus from then until May 21, wrote, “After being here for a week things are great. I’ve made some friends and done some pretty fun things. I went kayaking for the first time the other day and went hiking. Right now I’m exploring the city of Coyhaique [Chile] with some of my friends and stopped in this coffee shop to send this email!”