Schools & Program
Visits - Feb, 1998 Issue #50
Kalispell, Montana 406-755-3149
Visit by: Richard Armstrong, Boundarylines
As I came down the snow-covered road, the trees thinned and before me lay
a broad sweeping valley with snow covered peaks and hills surrounding it for miles. “Aahhh - Pure Montana!” I thought to myself. From
the directions I had received, I knew the school was on a knoll in a copse of trees just a few miles up the valley by road. There
was a very open feeling about the area.
When I came up the drive, the first thing that caught my eye was the herd
of Elk. It was afternoon with the sun shining warmly and the animals were making the most of it. The second thing to catch my eye
as I parked in front of the lodge were the two very large and obviously pet pigs also sunning themselves. They didn’t even give me
I was warmly greeted by Rosemary McKinnon, one of the Co- Founders. As we
toured the inside of the lodge she explained that things were quite busy around the campus as they were finishing up the new boys
dorm and trying to get ready for their first winter at the school. They had opened in July of 1997 and have gone through some growing
pains, as all new schools do, but were settling into a comfortable pace. The lodge was freshly remodeled and was quite comfortable
looking, both inside and outside. On our way through the lodge the students and staff were actively engaged in their pursuits. There
was an easy, relaxed feeling with both the students and the staff. The girls who were in their dorms had them fixed up with their
own personal touches of home that fit well. On our way through the kitchen there was one young man intent on the makings of dinner.
He had a warm smile and seemed quite content with whatever the challenges were before him.
The Academic building had a class of about ten boys who were trying to focus
on a biology lesson along with a video. My mini-tour seemed to be a distraction, yet the teacher handled it well. This building was
also recently remodeled and quite comfortable.
We made our way around the campus to the log cabin the staff and students
were building. It was a major project, their progress was slow, yet definitely a craftsman’s work. After making our way to the boys
dorm and looking around at the finished buildings, I could see a definite sense of quality and purpose throughout the campus.
Rosemary gave me a very informative talk of the direction the school was
going and the basics of what they had accomplished in the last five months. She had a meeting to be at so I was able to spend some
time with the school director, John Santa.
John spoke of the individualized program in four phases based on students’
accomplishments. They anticipate an average enrollment time of a year, but students could be there longer, if needed.
The students they feel they do best with are those who would respond to a
nurturing program. They want to have the students involved in some of the choices and the school assists them in taking a positive,
active role as much as possible. They have specifically designed a supportive environment. The school’s students have come from wilderness
programs, other schools and from hospitals. With their two Masters level therapists and one doctoral therapist, they have the therapeutic
component built into the curriculum. They also take students who may be on medication as John McKinnon is a doctor available to monitor
their progress. They are able to work with students that may have either clinical or behavioral problems because of the depth of the
At this time, they have a population of about 25 students, the majority being
boys. They want to balance this by recruiting more girls. They do get the kids into the outdoors for field trips and for the fun of
it. They are looking to emphasize more outdoors experiences as they develop and grow.
Academically they are applying for accreditation through the Northwest School
Accreditation Board. Currently they are using Indiana University Extension Studies for their correspondence classes over the Internet.
Their art teacher has a MA in Art Therapy and is quite versatile. They also have three certified part-time teachers. The students
go to classes for a half day and the other half is work ranging from cooking, to building and acquiring carpentry skills, to general
ranch maintenance, to taking care of the animals.
I was pleased with what I saw. They have created, and are developing a school
along with a program that is flexible and directed to the needs of adolescents and families. They have been candid in their discussion
finding a balance that evolves into continued success. They seem to be on the right path.
Copyright © 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced
without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)