Our mission is to EDUCATE, EMPOWER and INSPIRE young people in West Virginia.

High Rocks is a LEADER in TRANSFORMING the lives of young people and the impact they have on their communities.


The mission of the High Rocks is to educate, empower and inspire young people in West Virginia. We believe that all people are gifted and that by investing in young people, we are creating a strong, vibrant, participatory community for us all. We want to provide pathways out of poverty for our youth, giving them viable options for success in their home communities and abroad. We envision sustainable local economies that take advantage of our rich human and natural resources. We seek to inspire a culture of learning in our area that prepares rural Appalachian youth with the skills and ideas to drive change locally and on the national stage.


High Rocks is a global model for leadership development and transformational education for young people in Appalachia. Learning from our work with teen girls, we craft transformational experiences for young people that move them significantly and irrevocably forward in life. Our goal is to combat the root causes of poverty and apathy at their core, and we believe that the most effective way to do that is to invest in young people.  We:

                • Educate: teaching to produce educated, nimble, hungry minds and innovative teachers
                • Empower: increasing local leadership, personal responsibility, identity and pride
                • Inspire: evolving the individual’s leadership path and gift of service

High Rocks is a strong and vibrant organization; we are a community and a family. We are a cutting-edge learning lab of experiential education and teacher education, committed to equality, justice, and the power of the individual.


Our students reflect our communities. Seventy percent of the students we work with are low-income, and more than half will be first-generation college students. Our students also demonstrate advantages. One hundred percent of our participants graduate from high school and go on to college or a career path. Their persistence and college graduation rates are far ahead of the norm.

We work with young people, generally from the beginning of middle school through high school, college, and beyond. We also work with adults in our Grow Appalachia program and our AmeriCorps programs and partnerships.

We believe in the transformative power of single-sex education and spaces for girls, and High Rocks is and always will be a powerful center for women and girls. In addition, as we grew with our girls we also started working with the boys who were drawn to High Rocks and hungry for the opportunities and challenges we had to offer.  Now, we work with young women and men emerging as leaders in schools and communities. Our target focus ages are 12-29, but we also work with older adults and younger children.

We believe in local economies and place-based education, so we focus our work primarily on our core communities located closest to our home base, secondarily on West Virginia, and thirdly across the central Appalachian region. We offer resources, services and opportunities to any young person from or invested in the Appalachian region.

Our campground, lodge and offices are located in Hillsboro, WV, and we operate High Rocks centers in Lewisburg and Richwood, West Virginia. We partner with area schools, community groups, government agencies, and libraries. Regionally and nationally, we partner with social justice groups, funding organizations, and colleges and universities. All these partnerships are vital to our effectiveness in our rural area.

Through enriching programming and intentional mentoring provided by High Rocks and our AmeriCorps partner sites, in one year we were able to spend approximately 70,000 hours supporting more than 5,000 youth and community members. We have literally served thousands of young people and engaged thousands of volunteers over the last 20 years. 


This theory of change was written collaboratively by our AmeriCorps team members.

At High Rocks, we help young people thrive and communities grow. We work to cultivate understanding and acceptance. We introduce the four pillars of High Rocks programs: empowerment in learning, leadership development, wellness and healthy lifestyles, and community engagement.

We provide camps, after-school activities, creative arts experiences, STEM education, in-school enrichment, student entrepreneurship, mentoring, service-learning workshops, college access, literacy activities, environmental education, internships, community engagement activities, growing and eating healthy food and other wellness programs, and hands-on skill building.

We work to break cycles of poverty, addiction, lack of education, violence, chronic health conditions, delinquency, xenophobia, isolation, racism, sexism, and a perceived lack of opportunities for young people.

As a result, community leaders are nurtured, a cycle of service to others is born, diversity is accepted & celebrated, communities grow closer, stereotypes are broken, partnerships are created, resources are enriched, health improves, and West Virginia becomes a magnetic force for positivity, a narrative of success becomes dominant, and youth in our communities realize opportunities to stay, learn and thrive in West Virginia.


During her 18 years of public school teaching as a librarian and gifted/talented coordinator, Susan Burt observed a trend emerging among middle school girls in her community. Girls began middle school with positive energy and sunny dispositions, excited about their future, but soon began to downslide, failing to live up to their early potential. As a result, doors to their futures began closing and their choices became few.

Together with a group of her friends, Susan wanted to help change the way girls think about themselves. They wanted girls to have more options open to them as high school seniors. With more self-confidence and better grades, these girls might be better equipped to choose a future for themselves that may or may not include college.


In 1996, Susan decided to quit her public school job and start a summer camp for middle school girls. She shared her idea with a local woman, Virginia Steele, who had helped start Freedom Schools in the south. Ms. Steele was excited about the school and donated 200 acres of land to house the camp. Then, Margaret Workman of the WV Supreme Court heard about the camp and helped arrange for a local prison crew to clear away trees and brush to accommodate a campground.

High Rocks Academy of Hillsboro, WV, began that summer with 13 girls. It poured rain incessantly for the two-week camp, but that first group of staff and volunteers were determined. The girls’ tents were drenched, their spirits deflated. As the rain came down, Susan gathered the girls together in a treehouse. As they all looked down over the hills to the lights of the faraway town, Susan said to the girls, “Everyone down there thinks we’re going to come down. Do we want to prove them right, or do we want to tough it out for the two weeks?”

They made it through. And the rest is High Rocks history.