Posted by: Paul Lovaas | October 8, 2013

Real, Shared, Family Happiness

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Two important and thought-provoking events happened at Conserve School this past week. First, in English class, our students began to read and discuss Jon Krakauer’s best-selling work of Creative Nonfiction, Into the Wild. Jeff Rennicke teaches from the text as a part of his course Wilderness Voices: American Literature and the Land, and our Lowenwood campus has been abuzz with student reactions and student-staff conversations about the book.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, last weekend marked Family Visit Weekend for CS7! The population of Conserve School tripled for three days as students’ family members from all across the United States made their own journey to the Northwoods to observe classes, play on our trails and lakes, and of course, see their students for the first time in many weeks.

These two events seemed unrelated at first, but as I sat in the dining hall on Sunday afternoon, watching the last of our guests say goodbye once again to their students, it dawned on me that Into the Wild, a book about searching for one’s self, enlightenment, and for a way to live with the wilderness, is directly connected to what our students dare to do during a semester at Conserve School.

Christopher McCandless, the focus character in Krakauer’s book, ventures into the wilderness to chase a nontraditional adventure, and ultimately to learn through his experiences. In many ways, our students are daring to do a similar thing by choosing a semester at Conserve School – fortunately, their fate is a safer, more certain one.

What Christopher McCandless learned exactly, we’ll never know, but most of our students will argue that he certainly found something out there in the wild, and in his heart. We hope our students find something in those places too and learn some skills along their journey.

Looking back now on Family Visit Weekend, another connection strikes me; the last thing Christopher McCandless wrote in his journal was,

“happiness [is] only real when shared.”

Lowenwood was certainly a happier place last weekend thanks to the families and friends that came to share their time here. As a staff member who works closely with our students, the infusion of energy, gratitude, and happiness was tangible in the actions and words of each of our students last weekend. Thanks to all those who visited and helped make our happiness that much more real. Beyond that, thank you to all those who allowed these young students to dare to venture off into the wilderness with a semester at Conserve School.

Paul Lovaas, Graduate Fellow



  1. Thanks for the great weekend, Conserve! It really did feel like family–getting to know the kids I see in the pictures posted, talking with the grad students, laughing/crying with parents about our kids who are never going to want to come home, just have more adventures…

    The wild rice demo was fun, the talent show heartwarming, the leaves were perfect, the food was great, and we are so very grateful for the time our son gets to be there.

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