East Hartland, CT 06027
|About the Wilderness School|
|About the Staff|
|Packing for Your Expedition|
|2023 Summer Program Calendar|
|Policies (Enrollment and Behavioral)|
The Wilderness School has new offerings for 2023. Click the links to learn more.
Director: Aaron Wiebe (Aaron.Wiebe@ct.gov)
Field Program Supervisors:
Enrollment Email: WildernessJourney@ct.gov
Learn more about staff expertise and qualifications here.
- The Wilderness School is a prevention, intervention, and transition program for adolescents from Connecticut.
- The Wilderness School offers high impact wilderness programs year round ranging in length from 1-day programs to 20-Day Expeditions!
- Activities include hiking, camping, rock climbing, canoeing, high ropes course experiences, winter programming, and service learning.
- Wilderness School programs emphasize team-building, peer relations, self-reliance, responsibility, improved self-concept, and conflict resolution.
- Other programs include agency engagement, staff development and wellness, and work with families to enhance relationships within the family and their community social system.
The Wilderness School Overview
The Wilderness School (WS) is a program of the State of Connecticut, Department of Children and Families (DCF). Founded in 1974, the Wilderness School is a positive youth development program for young people ages 13-21. It serves as an enrichment program for young people looking to make positive changes. For many young people, the Wilderness School may serve as a prevention or intervention service. The Wilderness School programs are an enhancement to the work of social service agencies in Connecticut and are available to the community at large.
The Wilderness School is licensed by the State's Office of Early Childhood as a youth camp.
Wilderness School programming is unique in nature and function. Courses are group-oriented, strengths-based, and reflective. Ultimately, each expedition, short course, and activity is “Challenge by Choice.”
Wilderness School Courses involve the intentional use of cooperative games, problem solving initiatives, challenges, and adventure activities, most often in an outdoor setting. Courses are used to promote social skills, enhance self-concept and competence, and foster group cohesion.
Wilderness Schools' programming is provided on a continuum of challenges and difficulty and is designed to serve participants who demonstrate various levels of strengths and capacities
Wilderness School offers an array of courses and programs to meet various participant needs that consider duration of programming (from 1 to 20 days), proximity to roads and amenities vs. wilderness, intensity of activities, and facilitator to participant ratios.
Activities may involve rock climbing, hiking, canoeing, ropes/challenge course, service projects, wilderness camping, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, and winter-camping. Additionally, the program may facilitate mindfulness and reflective activities, therapeutic art activities, and teambuilding activities and challenges.
Studies have documented the Wilderness School's positive impact upon the self-esteem, increased locus of control (personal responsibility), and interpersonal skill enhancement of adolescents attending the program. Traditionally, the Wilderness School has also sought to emphasize the development of values such as cooperation, compassion, and responsibility among our student population. In addition, WS is currently partnered with the Outdoor Behavioral Health Council, a leader in the field of research, to further establish an evidence-based practice.
A Director along with 3 full-time and year-round interdisciplinary staff with education and training in outdoor experiential education, clinical social work, and counseling serve as administrators and supervisors. Seasonally, the Wilderness School hires up to 28 crew leaders.
All Wilderness School Staff are responsible for the physical and emotional safety of course participants. This obligation requires staff to restrict all activities within safe limits and to take adequate precautions to prevent accidents, injuries, and emotional harm. Staff are also obligated to prepare participants through technical training and interpersonal support to meet the demands of the course. This statement is intended to create a policy of safety consciousness among all staff and course participants, as activities involving risk require prudence and care in their undertaking.
The entire staff team is actively involved with and/or certified in all technical activities, risk management and fostering healthy social environments that promote growth and learning. Staff receive on-going comprehensive education and training.
Training and supervision are designed to enable staff to perform effectively, conscientiously, and reasonably in fulfilling their responsibilities with special emphasis on reasoned judgment and team collaboration.
Facility and Course Area
The Wilderness School basecamp was constructed in the late 1980s by agreement on State land under the management of The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). The facility was opened in 1990. The facility is well maintained. The program course area follows the Appalachian Trail corridor of the Taconic and Berkshire Mountain ranges of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Additional programming takes place on the main campus and in many of the Connecticut’s State and regional parks that offer areas for hiking, canoeing, rock-climbing, and team-building activities.
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. The staff is rooted in adolescent development and proficient in group work. Rapport building and behavior intervention skills are integral to our staff teams.
Staff are trained outdoor professionals with experience in many alternative programs for youth, including Outward Bound and the National Outdoor Leadership School.
The Wilderness School hires seasonal staff members who frequently work throughout the year as professional outdoor leaders, while others are youth workers, teachers, or college students studying social work or experiential education. Our staff have extensive training and personal experience in wilderness skills, including white water paddling, rock climbing, caving, winter programming, ropes course management, and wilderness expedition travel. They are often recognized for their technical skills, outdoor safety judgment, athletic ability, enthusiasm, and concern for youth.
Staff members are certified with a minimum of Wilderness First Aid and professional C.P.R., with staff at Instructor level and above certified as Wilderness First Responder, Wilderness EMT or Wilderness Advanced First Aid.
Current Summer Expedition and Follow-Up Program 2023:
Note: Expeditions and Follow-Up Courses are cell phone/electronics-free commitments
3-Day Expeditions: The focus is on comfort and belonging. These courses are often designed as an introduction to Wilderness School programming and are excellent choices for young people new to an outdoor setting and activities. Many 3-Day students elect to participate in longer courses later in the summer. Overnight camping with day activities (Examples: canoeing, day hiking a peak, rock climbing or ropes/challenge course).
|Wednesday, June 21 - Friday, June 23, 2023||2023-03-01; (Solnit North- Agency Specific Enrollment)|
|Wednesday, June 21 - Friday, June 23, 2023|| 2023-03-02; (Mixed Gender, Open Enrollment- Minimum age 13): Challenge Course and Rock Climbing
|Tuesday, Aug 1st - Thursday, August 3rd||2023-03-03; (Mixed Gender, LGBTQIA+, Open Enrollment- Minimum Age 13)|
5-Day Expeditions: Building skills and resilience. 5-Day expeditions are designed around group travel by backpacking or canoe (carrying food, clothing and equipment down the trail or waterway) for multiple days, overnight camping in multiple locations, and a high adventure challenge activity such as the challenge course or rock climbing. This is an excellent choice for a young person looking to push their "comfort zone" and are ready to face a progressive challenge.
|Monday, June 26 - Friday, June 30, 2023||2023-05-01 (Old Saybrook Youth Services-Agency Specific Enrollment): Canoeing|
|Monday, June 26 - Friday, June 30, 2023||2023-05-02 (Mixed Gender, Open Enrollment- Minimum age 13): Hiking|
|Monday, August 7 - Friday, August 11, 2023||2023-05-03 (Boys, Open Enrollment- Minimum age 13): Canoeing|
|Monday, August 7 - Friday, August 11, 2023||2023-05-04 (Girls, Open Enrollment- Minimum age 13): Hiking|
14-Day Expeditions: Mastery and Teamwork. 14-Day courses are for young people ready to push their own limits and take on the responsibility of being part of a team. Courses involve backpacking, canoeing, and rock-climbing. The extended duration provides more opportunities for mastering skills, building resilience, and taking on leadership as the crew forms a team.
|Thursday, July 6 – Wednesday, July 19, 2023||2023-14-01 (Boys, Minimum age 14)|
|Thursday, July 6 - Wednesday, July 19, 2023||2023-14-02 (Girls, Minimum age 14)|
14-Day Conservation Summer Youth Employment: Build work skills while performing conservation trail work on an extended overnight camping expedition. Students will perform manual labor to maintain and construct trail networks in coordination with Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and CT Forest and Parks. Enrichment activities will involve rock climbing, canoeing, and team building.
|Thursday, July 6 – Wednesday, July 19, 2023||2023-14-C1 (Mixed Gender, Open Enrollment, minimum age 15); Conservation Program; Special Enrollment (call to inquire)|
|Thursday, July 27 – Wednesday, August 9, 2023||2023-14-C2 (Mixed Gender, Open Enrollment, Minimum age 15); Conservation Program; Special Enrollment (call to inquire)|
20-Day Expedition: Mastery, collaboration, deep resilience, leadership, responsibility, and independence. 20-Day courses are for young people eager to make changes and take on the responsibility of leadership. Courses involve backpacking, canoeing, rock-climbing, challenge course, solo experience, service project, and final expedition. As Wilderness School's longest expedition, the course allows for the greatest foundational positive changes and the formation of new habits and attitudes.
|Thursday, July 27 – Tuesday, August 15, 2023||2023-20-01 (Boys, Open Enrollment, Minimum age 14);|
|Thursday, July 27 – Tuesday, August 15, 2023||2023-20-02 (Girls, Open Enrollment, Minimum age 14);|
14-Day Wilderness School Alumni Expedition: Continuing the Journey. Wilderness School Alumni Expeditions are designed for Wilderness School course graduates to push their leadership and growth to further reaches. These courses often extend to more remote areas of New England and beyond.
14-Day Alumni Expedition Programs:
|Thursday, July 6th - Wednesday, July 19th, 2023||2023-14-A1 (Alumni, Minimum age 14)|
Year-Round Follow-Up Programming: Young people who participate in a summer expedition program are eligible to participate in follow-up programing from September through May following the summer. Follow-up programs highlight weekend and holiday courses allowing young people to stay connected to the Wilderness school program, friends they have made on their course(s), and the personal growth connected to the program. Activities and timelines of courses vary. Transportation options are available.
- How to Enroll Students in an Expedition Program
- How to Prepare for your Expedition
- Watch the Expedition YouTube Video
Application Materials for Parent/Guardian to complete:
- DCF-2300 (Student Application)
- SDE-HAR3 (State of CT-Department of Education, Health Assessment Record. NOTE: This form is not "fillable" form.)
- DCF-2303 (Non-Prescription Medication Authorization - OTC) – to be completed by Pediatrician for any non-prescription medication (ibuprofen, Tylenol, vitamins, other) that the applicant may need during the expedition.
- DCF-2304 (Prescription Medication Authorization - PEDIATRIC)– to be completed by Pediatrician for any prescribed medication that the youth will need.
- DCF-2305 (Prescription Medication Authorization - PSYCHIATRIC) – to be completed by Psychiatrist/prescriber for any Psychotropic medication that the youth will need.
Application Materials for Referring Agent to complete:
- DCF-2301 (Referring Agency Background Information Form)
- DCF-2302 (Student Contract – to be completed by Referring Agent, youth and parent)
- DCF-2307 (3-7 Day Clothing List)
- DCF-2308 (10-20 Day Clothing List)
- DCF-2306 (Medication Checklist)
- Packing for your Wilderness School Expedition (17 Videos)