FAQ | High Desert Center
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What’s our daily schedule look like?  The answer depends on where we are and what we’re doing.  In Paonia, we’ll get up early often to harvest tomatoes or climb mountains or start the cobbing project.  The middle of the day will often contain a siesta and some cooking.  After dinner there is normally a check-in, time to share about the day, and dancing.  We fit a lot in a day, and that’s a good thing.  Two days a week will be off, time to rest and explore and meet the neighbors.

Do you have grades or provide college credit?  No, but it is often possible to do these things yourself. Dev has a Ph.D. and many colleges will approve independent study credits with him as a mentor. We can also create official looking transcripts and will document what we do through individual online portfolios.

What are the accommodations and meals like? Each person will have their own bed and share a bedroom with other participants. We use solar showers and composting toilets and cook in an outdoor kitchen.  It’s rustic.  Those who like rustic are comfortable; those who resist it aren’t.  Meals will be mostly local food–lots of veggies and grains, local meat for those who want it, fresh bread when we make it. One of our goals is to practice eating well at minimal cost.

How can this help me with future college endeavors? The skills you’ll learn in this program provide a foundation for making college and/or life work for you. You’ll practice seeing opportunity and seizing it, living the good life in keeping with your values, and meeting basic life needs well and affordably. More importantly, you will discover ways to live that give meaning and purpose to the moments and the learning.  For many students, the first year of college are about discovering who you are, making friends and learning how to follow through with your goals.  If you go to college after this gap year, you’ll already have this foundation in place and be ready to focus on the subjects at hand.

What kind of physical challenges should I be prepared for?  Participants should already be in decent shape by the time they arrive, able to comfortably walk six miles with a pack in two hours.   Physical activity is a big part of this program and you need to embrace it, to be willing to do what it takes to shovel hard for two hours or climb a craggy mountain or carry a backpack with everything you need in it for a week or walk to town and back with your laundry in your backpack. By the end of the year you’ll be in better shape and confident.

What are the additional costs?  Travel back and forth from Paonia from wherever you are.  Round trip plane tickets between Guatemala and Denver.  Equipment like backpacks and rain coats if you don’t have them already.  Spending change for the occasional cup of coffee and admission to a local music show.  Depending on your habits this can range from $25 to $200 a month.

12 students isn’t a lot; what if I don’t find my soul mates in the other students?  True.  Part of the challenge is getting along with who we’re with.  That said, most participants find best friends and buddies in the group.  Moreover, Paonia is full of inspiring young people who come to work on farms or be interns at High Country News or Solar Energy International.  We’ll have weekly potlucks and dances with the larger community, and most create a social group bigger than just the gap year group.

When are tuition payments due and what is your refund policy?

A non-refundable $30 application fee is due with your application.  Once we process your application and you are accepted, $1000 is due within two weeks to hold your spot.

Half of the remaining tuition is due by April 1 or within two weeks of being accepted into the program, whichever is later.  The remaining half of the fee is due one week before the program starts.  Should you change your mind before two months of the program start date, you will get back all but $1000 of whatever you’ve paid. Should you change your mind after that, no refund will be issued (because we make non-refundable commitments that rely on specific participant numbers).  If the program is cancelled by us for any reason, all payments are fully refundable.

Once the program starts, should you leave the program by choice or break the agreements and be asked to leave the program, tuition payments are not refundable.

What policies and procedures will I be asked to agree to in this program?

We will ask you to sign an agreement form that includes:

  • No use of drugs (including tobacco and marijuana) and alcohol.
  • Doing your share of cooking and cleaning.
  • Abiding by fire and general safety procedures.
  • Participating fully in program activities unless there is agreement otherwise.

Can I leave in the middle of this program or arrive late?  It is important that all participants arrive on time (but not early!) for the first day and plan to be there (barring emergency) for at least the first month.  Thereafter, if there is a reason to leave and you take care of all the logistics yourself (rides to airport, etc.) and have the support of parents if you are a minor, then it is okay for you to leave and come back.

Do males and females sleep separately?  We start that way, but if there is full consensus for mixed sleeping groups, it often happens.

What are the risks?  

Participants, and their parents if participants are not legal adults, will be asked to sign a release form before the program starts acknowledging the risks associated with this program.  They include the risks inherent to backcountry travel in rough and remote county, traveling in Mexico, working on farms, and travel in vans and cars driven by staff or by other students with a strong driving record.

Participants are often unsupervised by staff and will be free to travel around Paonia and in Ejido Johnson (where we have home stays in Mexico) on their own.

Participants, by consent, may also engage in dumpster diving, skinny dipping, and other unconventional but safe adventures. Read Dev’s adventures page to get a sense of the spirit of what can happen on a gap year. (Note–we will not be hunting man-eating crocodiles or hitchhiking, except in emergency or by special permission.)

What forms are needed as part of the application?  After the interview, if you have been offered enrollment, we will hold your spot for two weeks and ask you to make a $1000 payment and complete and send in medical history and consent forms as well as an acknowledgement of risk form.  When we receive these, we will formally accept you and give you a spot in the program.

If you have any other questions or comments please contact Dev through our contact form.

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