“A lot of the tasks require working together to accomplish the goal, and if they don’t work together, they won’t complete it. It’s meaningful and empowering to see girls have breakthroughs on the trip.”
-Damian Gates, Seventh-Grade Advisor
Every year, groups of Burke’s students disappear for days at a time, heading off to a variety of locations all over Northern California. While these getaways function as an escape from life on campus, they also serve an important role in a Burke’s girl’s life over the nine years she’s in school.
The Outdoor Education Program at Burke’s has a rich history that started in the 1980s. Bobbie Meyer, a Lower School P.E. teacher at that time, thought about how students had the chance to have experiences outside of the city’s urban landscape through eighth-grade visits to the Yosemite Institute and fourth-grade camping trips to Sutter’s Mill. Meyer wanted to provide similar opportunities to girls in all grades.
Her vision culminated in the 1987 purchase of the Mountain Mill House campus up north toward Clear Lake. Over time, finances became difficult, and Mountain Mill House was sold in 2003. The proceeds from the sale were used to fund the full Burke’s Outdoor Education Program, the focus for which has grown beyond nature to teamwork, social development, skill building, and much more. 
Rebekah Wolman, former and long-time Director of Upper School captured it well when she stated that “the ‘curriculum’ for the Outdoor Ed trips has been linked both to social-emotional development and learning goals, as well as our academic curriculum. Once we sold Mountain Mill House, we identified outdoor/experiential education providers whose programming and locations were well matched to our students’ developmental levels and our program goals.”
The program’s challenges increase by grade level, and Wolman described the long-term goal well: “the girls learn to work together, rely on themselves, learn what they are capable of, and also to support and rely on each other. We also hope to instill in the girls a love and appreciation of the natural world and an understanding of the ecology and geology of at least part of California.”
The trips each grade takes vary in goals and activities:

  • The third grade goes to the Marin Headlands for one night as a warm-up, learning to be away from the comforts of home and thinking independently.

  • The fourth grade takes a Coloma trip for two nights as a part of the Gold Rush portion of their study of California history.

  • The fifth grade spends two nights with the Web of Life Field School (WOLF School) in the Santa Cruz mountains, focusing on redwood forest ecosystems and interdependencies in ecology.

  • The sixth grade spends two nights with Naturalists at Large, camping and hiking on Mt. Tamalpais. There’s also some field science and ecology education, but the focus on team-building games and hiking.

  • The seventh grade has a two-night fall retreat at Camp Newman in Santa Rosa with activities planned by Naturalists at Large and also team-building, as well as a three-night spring camping trip to Pinnacles National Park, continuing both themes and adding hiking, rock-climbing, and also some education in local geology.

  • The eighth grade has a one-night fall retreat at St. Dorothy's Rest retreat center in Camp Meeker, which sets the tone for the year. In the spring, a three-night backpacking trip, (currently to Point Reyes National Seashore) is about rising to personal challenge, resilience, and a final bonding experience. The girls learn how they can rely on inner resources and each other as they get ready to leave Burke's.

Outdoor Ed Videos

Burke's mission is to educate, encourage and empower girls. Our school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.


An independent K–8 school for girls
7070 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94121
Phone: 415.751.0177 Fax: 415.666.0535
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