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Schools & Program Visits - Dec, 1996 Issue #43 

Caroline Wolf, Consultant Relations 
Loa, Utah 
Lon's Visit: August 20, 1996 

There was a sense of safety and well-being that greeted me as we walked out to the group of young people on their wilderness expedition. The wilderness setting of course contributed to that, along with a warm August sun, a light breeze, the babbling of a clear-water brook a few yards down the slope, and the half dozen or so kids relaxing and writing in their journals, or in quiet one-on-one conversations, or practicing various wilderness skills. That afternoon they were in what is called down time, a time to write, reflect, and relax. The feeling was of a very comfortable place that invited a person to just sit back and and enjoy. 

This was part of the program's healing, and the need for healing was obvious as we circled up with the kids and they started telling their stories. Every one of them had been wounded, and it didn't really make much difference if the wounding was from the consequences of their own actions, or from the thoughtless actions of some adult. The hurt showed in their eyes, and in voice inflections at times, and in confusions, and in a longing for what they thought should have been, and in their struggles to understand and let the hurt go. 

Before coming to Aspen, every one of these kids had been acting out and out-of-control. But by the time they had spent some time in the wilderness, when I saw them, all talked politely and were trying to honestly express their thoughts and feelings. Even the newest girl was polite as she told why she hated it there and what she didn't like about it. (From her pre-Aspen story, it had probably been ages since she had talked politely like that to any adult). 

There was one girl that didn't join our group. Her comment to the staff member she was working with gave an insight to what these kids had been going through before being enrolled at Aspen. This girl was struggling to learn how to make a fire using a bow drill, which requires concentration, persistence and determination. I was later told that as she struggled, she was crying and saying, "It hurts to feel!" 

I was impressed by a surprising request the group made. They wanted the counselor for their group to meet with them more often, because their sessions with him were really helpful. This was from kids who for the most part in the past had done everything they could to undermine previous counseling efforts in more traditional settings. The request seemed genuine, and I felt this was a real tribute to the program's ability to bring out a child's desire to heal and learn to do the right thing. 

Each child goes through four phases of the program, each with increasing responsibilities and privileges, as they complete 27 assignments. The first phase is called Mouse, and is basically an orientation lasting a couple of days. Next is the Coyote phase, which deals with personal issues along with learning the skills needed for survival and comfort in the wilderness. 

In the Buffalo phase, the student moves on into community and family issues, and works on teamwork, which is often a very difficult concept for children with low self-esteem to grasp. The highest level is called Eagle, where the student learns responsibility by taking on leadership roles in the group. 

Each phase builds on the previous one, with the goal of each child learning self-control and the ability to establish and work toward accomplishing goals. Of course, that's what growing up is all about. 

Copyright 1996, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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