Principal Blog - April

The CAP program is an award-winning elective class run by the Cottonwood Institute that is exclusive to 7th and 8th graders at AXL Academy. During CAP, scholars challenge themselves on hikes and overnight camping trips, explore inspiring solutions to hyper-local environmental issues, choose an issue to address as a class, and collaborate with other local organizations to design and implement a student-directed Action Project to positively address their issue.


In the 2021-22 school year, our CAP scholars were overjoyed to be able to engage in activities and plans that were largely out of reach during the pandemic due to social distancing needs and virtual learning. The activities that they engage in range from local activities such as building bird houses and bird feeders around AXL to exciting trips to the Rocky Mountains. So far this school year, CAP scholars have visited Cherry Creek State Park, Cal-Wood Education Center, Staunton State Park, and Golden Gate State Park.

  • Cherry Creek State Park (day trip): During their field day exploration work, scholars applied knowledge they had acquired from the class program to identify key plant and tree species present in the parks, in addition to developing plans to support the health of the ecosystem. The group then broke into groups of four for a nature building challenge to take only 20 minutes to construct a floatable and strong boat made out of ONLY natural materials. Each small group went to work brainstorming how they would successfully create the boat that floated down the creek the fastest, including boats made of bark, grasses, and even mud and leaves to hold the boats together. Scholars cheered on the other teams as they sent their boats down the creek - all of them succeeded!.

  • Cal-Wood Education Center (overnight trip): Scholars hiked about a mile to their campsites, guided and supported by Cal-Wood staff. In an effort to support fire mitigation efforts following the devastating fires of the summer of 2020, Scholars worked with Cal-Wood staff to create slash-and-burn piles to be burned in the winter in order to support new forest growth and to protect from large wildfire spread. Scholars were excited to apply wildfire knowledge from their CAP class, and the learning continued after the service project with a matchstick forest activity that demonstrated how slope and tree arrangement affect fire spread.

  • Staunton State Park (day trip): Scholars were taught how to pile snow to make a quinzhee, which is an igloo-like snow shelter. While they let the snow settle, they talked about some animals from our field guides that might live in the area and envisioned the tracks they make. Scholars found human, rabbit, squirrel, dog, mouse, and bird tracks in the snow (mostly human and dog!). They even combined freshly fallen snow, milk, vanilla, sugar, and sprinkles to create “backcountry ice cream!”

  • Golden Gate State Park (day trip): Scholars were excited to learn about building and sustaining fires. The group grappled with the idea of how they would create a fire in the middle of the winter, asking questions such as where would they find wood? How would they dry it? How would they start the fire? These questions are perfect examples of EL Educational principles of discovery learning. They tested these questions of survival and skill with a few basic materials. Using fire pans, groups of scholars created fires with strikers using cotton balls covered in vaseline, paper, sticks, and different types of potato chips. Scholars applied their principles of science to determine that chips were actually highly effective firestarters due to their high fat content.

The CAP class is renowned for their focus on community and sustainability, and AXL scholars consistently point to their time in CAP class as a highlight of their time at AXL Academy.