About The Wilderness School

About Our Staff
Fall 2009 Pictures
Philosophy and Methodology
Wilderness School At-A-Glance
Wilderness School Expedition DVD

The Wilderness School, located in East Hartland, Connecticut, provides a therapeutic wilderness challenge program for male and female adolescents who exhibit unacceptable behavior or have family difficulties.

The Wilderness School adapted the models of the American Outward Bound Schools and the general framework of social group work practice for the design of the wilderness experience. The design consists of a combination of these and other methodologies and is designed to teach self-reliance and responsibility as well as to improve self-esteem. Evaluations have demonstrated that program graduates show improved self-concept and social functioning, and are less likely to break the law or be involved with drugs or alcohol.

The program course area follows the Appalachian Trail corridor of the Taconic and Berkshire Mountain ranges of Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as the adjoining areas of the Housatonic River Valley.

Several different program types are offered and comprise a continuum of services offered to our students.

In the summer, students attend 5-Day and 20-Day Expeditions in groups of ten with two or three Instructors and with the support of base camp staff.

Each Expedition student must pass through an Enrollment and Orientation phase of the Wilderness School prior to attending.

Expedition students are required to set goals for their experiences with the program and for their lives in the community once they have finished their courses.

The Wilderness School also conducts numerous Short Courses, from 1-3 days in length, year round for groups seeking adventure education services.

These Short Courses may be Wilderness Challenge activities such as rock climbing, ropes course, canoeing or cross country skiing, or group initiative courses designed for specific groups and programs.

All 20-Day and 5-Day Expedition Program students are also eligible to participate in a fall through spring Follow-Up Program. Those attending 1-day Short Courses may elect to apply for 20-day or 5-day Expeditions.

The Wilderness School student population is diverse and representative of varied backgrounds.

A central element of the Wilderness School is the cooperative involvement of the family, Referring Agency and Wilderness School staff.

The Wilderness School is licensed as a Youth Camp by the State of Connecticut Department of Public Health.

About Our Staff:

The Wilderness School staff is committed to the belief that all students have the inherent ability to succeed and that the group process is a key element in a youth's growth and change.

Staff backgrounds range from Outward Bound, National Outdoor Leadership School, Wilderness Education Association and alternative programs for youth to experience in social work and education.

The staff is proficient in group work and individual counseling for adolescents. Other areas of expertise include substance abuse prevention, conflict resolution, and adolescent development.

Each full-time program staff is certified with a minimum of Wilderness First Responder (WFR) and professional cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Each full-time program staff also has had extensive training and personal experience in wilderness skills, including white water paddling, rock climbing, caving, winter programming, ropes course management, and wilderness expedition travel.

Seasonal instructors and base camp staff bring an added variety of backgrounds from across the country to the summer program.

Each is certified with a minimum of Wilderness First Aid and professional C.P.R., with staff at Instructor level and above certified as WFR or Wilderness Advanced First Aid.

Seasonal staff members frequently work throughout the year as professional outdoor leaders, while others are youth workers, teachers, or college students studying social work or experiential education. They are often recognized for their technical skills, outdoor safety judgment, athletic ability, enthusiasm, and concern for youth.

Philosophy and Methodology:

  • Small Group Process: Wilderness School groups are largely responsible for the outcome of the course. Through discussion and experience, the group learns teamwork, problem solving, and decision-making. The group is expected to advocate positive values such as respect and compassion, and to develop an ability to perform with increasing self-direction.
  • Processing of Experience: Course experiences are discussed and processed by the individual and the group for the course’s impact to be made relevant. On wilderness courses, a major emphasis is placed on briefing and debriefing each day and activity, and on relating these subjects to meaningful examples from the student’s life.
  • Graduated Challenges: The course consists of a series of graduated, achievable challenges intended to establish a pattern of success. These require continually increasing effort and produce related feelings of accomplishment.
  • Use of Natural Consequences: The natural consequences of one’s actions or inactions are used to a safe and reasonable degree. The simplified environment of the course dispenses immediate, impartial consequences that may be utilized as learning experiences for students.
  • Experiential Learning: Learning by doing is emphasized in skills instruction. Group members are active participants in lessons and are given the responsibility to learn the skills necessary for the successful completion of the course.
  • Twenty-Four Hour Programming: Programming twenty-four hours per day provides an intensive experience resulting in an eventual confrontation with one’s limits. This experience produces opportunities for students and the group to expand limits and gain positive self-awareness.