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PAA’s Class Challenges Teach Character


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“Besides introducing our students to Jesus Christ, character development is one of our most important goals,” says Monte Torkelsen, Portland Adventist Academy Chaplain. “It means we seek to intentionally develop core character traits in our students that reflect and lift up Christ.”

PAA developed Class Adventures, Challenges, and Retreats as tools to teach courage, leadership, integrity, curiosity, concern, and belief. They are the focus of each event and they continue to be emphasized throughout the year.

The events happen early in the school year, offering a firm foundation for a great year. Each class, as a group, leaves the city and all their electronic gadgets behind to retreat to the wilderness. Through mountaineering, ropes courses, rock climbing, and navigating carefully planned obstacle courses and mind-bending puzzles, students learn life skills and bond with each other. Courses are taught and led by PAA staff, upperclassman mentors, and certified mountaineering guides.

Thoughtfully planned, every year’s event builds upon the next. Freshmen spend a day learning about trust and courage through a ropes course. As sophomores, they explore the themes of teamwork, creativity, concern, solitude & reflection, and vision during a weekend in the mountains.

By the time PAA students are Juniors, they are ready for a more mature look at courage, strategic planning, group leadership, followership & respect, creativity, and solitude & reflection.

Finally, PAA seniors are instructed in integrity, judgement, strategic goal setting, and community. “These traits are about being who you are and who you really want to be,” says Torkelsen, “making the right choice at the right time, planning for the future, and connecting with God and each other.”

“The Junior Challenge is the hard one,” says Vice Principal, Ty Johnson. “For some of these kids, it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done.

“This year, it was the girls who stood out,” said Johnson. “They quickly realized they couldn’t complete a challenge on their own and how important it was they connect with each other to finish a task. Their dynamics were impressive to watch.”

Johnson also loves seeing the sense of accomplishment and pride in the students when they complete their final challenge. “As you watch the kids climb that last mountain,” he says, “then look down into the valley, across the hills and river, and the cliffs they’ve climbed, it’s awesome to see them take in all they’ve worked through.”

“That final summit is symbolic,” says Johnson. “It’s a reminder of where they came from and what it took to reach the top. It’s a life lesson. And these are lessons we can’t teach in the classroom. You just can’t put a price on that value.”

Ashley Kerr (left) and Smantha Maclachlan learn to carefully prepare before climbing a cliff. The Junior Challenge helps to life skills like careful preparation before big decisions.

Ashley Kerr (left) and Smantha Maclachlan learn to carefully prepare before climbing a cliff. The Junior Challenge helps to life skills like careful preparation before big decisions.


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The tasks assigned to students during the Junior Challenge required partners and teams. Blair Roessel (left) and Addie Buchanan learned that strength sometimes comes from asking for help and being willing to depend on and trust each other.

The tasks assigned to students during the Junior Challenge required partners and teams. Blair Roessel (left) and Addie Buchanan learned that strength sometimes comes from asking for help and being willing to depend on and trust each other.


For some students the Junior Challenge is the hardest thing they’ve ever done. A few International Students, like Anna Lee, participated in the Challenge this year. Many International students had never been camping.

For some students the Junior Challenge is the hardest thing they’ve ever done. A few International Students, like Anna Lee, participated in the Challenge this year. Many International students had never been camping.


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PAA teacher and Academic Dean, Mark Smith is also a professional and record-setting climber. Here he is teaching Brittany Abeline how to safely prepare to rappel during the Junior Challenge.


The girls stood out as an exceptional group during this year’s Junior Challenge. “As you watch [them] climb that last mountain, then look down into the valley, across the hills and river, and the cliffs they’ve climbed, it’s awesome to see them take in all they’ve worked through,” says Vice Principal, Ty Johnson. “You can’t put a price on that value.”

The girls stood out as an exceptional group during this year’s Junior Challenge. “As you watch [them] climb that last mountain, then look down into the valley, across the hills and river, and the cliffs they’ve climbed, it’s awesome to see them take in all they’ve worked through,” says Vice Principal, Ty Johnson. “You can’t put a price on that value.”


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