Frey Reaches Students Through ‘Off-Trail On Purpose’ Program

For one young lady, it’s all about the students.

Over the past two years Leslie Frey has served as a mentor to high school and college students who, for whatever reason, lack a clear vision of what their life goals should be.

Her journey began about 15 years ago when she started teaching high school English classes.

“I was teaching mostly impoverished Hispanic students in San Antonio. Most of their families had not gone to college,” she said.

As time passed Frey realized that her student’s needs were greater than what the school offered, so she set out to find a more progressive school serving a similar population. She moved to Houston where she found a charter school called KIPP, an acronym for Knowledge is Power Program.

“At the time there were five KIPP schools in the United States, with the first being the one in Houston, Texas. There are currently 183 KIPP schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia serving nearly 70,000 students.”

The fifth through eighth grade school day started at 7:00 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m., with a half day on Saturdays, and an extra month of classes in the summertime. Frey said she liked the structure and the students benefited from that kind of support, but she didn’t like Houston. She was offered the top administrative position for a new high school program in Denver, but declined.

“When I first started in the charter school movement we got to define our own agenda. We made decisions for the children’s benefit without regard to what other schools were doing. This quickly shifted to a competition whereby we had to prove that we were better than the status quo.” Frey said the charter school environment seemed less attractive to her when standardized testing became a priority as the barometer of academic progress.

In order to continue working primarily with adolescents, but on her own terms, Frey applied for a three month internship with North Carolina Outward Bound, and stayed with them for ten years. Outward Bound provides an experiential education opportunity with lessons in teamwork, self reliance, and compassion. “The classroom is the wilderness. The Outward Bound model brings together a group of seven to 12 teenagers of about the same age, total strangers that meet each other and their instructors at the airport. They don’t know it when they meet, but they will form lifelong bonds.”

On day one the students are given backpacks and introduced to their gear. “Most of the kids have never been backpacking before. We set out on trails, navigate through the wilderness, gather water, cook over an open fire, and sleep under tarps. Each day we progress between one to ten miles, depending on other activities such as rock climbing, and whitewater canoeing. They experience a great sense of accomplishment by stepping outside of their comfort zones and working through risky situations. They learn that all true benefits, gains, and successes in life come from taking risks, and moving forward.”

While at Outward Bound Frey worked at their National Admissions office, and frequently spoke with parents with high school and college aged children who had no idea what they want to do after graduation. “I kept hearing the same message from parents. ‘My kid is lost. My kid has no direction.’ We do a really good job of pushing the idea of going to college, but where we are failing is helping them to understand why.”

Two years ago Frey decided to become a mentor to these “lost kids,” and started Off-Trail On Purpose. She begins by helping them better understand themselves, and shows them what careers match up with their interests and experience. She uses a 16 page assessment from Structure of Intellect that analyzes 26 different ways humans process information. “It takes about three hours and focuses less on how smart a person is, and more about how a person is smart. The assessment theory shows in which areas more development is needed.”

Frey said the key is developing a vision in advance to discover exactly how a college education makes sense. “You can then approach colleges and say, ‘I know where I’m going. I’ve already spent time talking with these people. I’ve pursued these activities to develop myself in this way. Here’s where the road is taking me. The question is now are you the vehicle I’m going to purchase to get me there?”

For more information visit Frey’s website at www.OffTrailOnPurpose.com or call 828 581-9821.

About Shelby Harrell
Shelby Harrell is the news editor of the Biltmore Beacon, editor of The Guide arts and entertainment tab and is a staff writer for Mountaineer Publishing. Originally from Asheville, she has worked in journalism for more almost six years and currently lives in Clyde, NC.