Woodbury Reports Archives


The Internet's leading source of information on emotional growth schools & programs

Archives Contents

Archives Home
Contents by Year
      1989 - Present
Contents by Topic
      Industry News
      Schools & Visits
      Opinions & Essays

Archives Search

The easiest way to find information is by using our search function. Just type in the words you would like to search for and you'll get a list of articles related to your topic.

Site Index

Schools & Programs
Chat Board
Online Store
Contact Us

Schools & Program Visits - Jan, 2000 Issue #65 

New Dominion School
Oldtown, MD
Site Visit Report
By Carol Maxym
November 11, 1999

I visited New Dominion, Maryland with three other consultants, Phyllis Kozokoff, Nancy Coulbourn Ike, and Nancy Cadwallader on a tour organized by Three Springs that preceeded the IECA Fall conference in Baltimore. I was very taken by New Dominion’s program—from the boys to the staff to the academics to the outdoor living, and most of all the trips they take the boys on. This is a no-nonsense, strict program: everyone knows the boys are there to change! They must first earn the right to go to class at all, then earn every additional hour. The program includes many opportunities for the boys to spend weekends and holidays at home—as appropriate and feasible. Family involvement is encouraged. Boys aged 11-17 who have hit some rather serious bumps in their roads comprise the student body. Some are adjudicated, some referred by social service agencies, some are private payers. Each of the boys we met came from a different place—geographically, emotionally, and psychologically. 

In our meeting with Tom Mogle, Experiential Learning Coordinator, there was some confusion as we tried to understand just what a boy had to do to “earn his crest,” an important early step in the change process at New Dominion. There is no exact number of points to be earned, no exact skill to demonstrate; instead, when the other boys and the staff believe that a boy has begun to “walk the walk” rather than just “talk the talk,” a boy earns his crest—but he must petition for it and explain how and why he believes he deserves this distinction. Because the system is not exact, it is harder to manipulate and perhaps especially well- suited to the boy who is more intuitive by nature. 

The staff are spoken to in the old-fashioned way: Mr. Phillips (the counselor who works with the boys with sexual issues who impressed me very much), Mr. Romaine, Administrator (a JD) Mrs. Porter, the Director of Admissions. Yet at the same time, within the groups, the staff and students are on a level of equality that would make this program a good choice for a boy who is particularly defiant to authority because the usual authority patterns to defy, just aren’t there. Groups with their adult staff members make decisions about meals, trips, and activities as a group. Dr. George McKenney is the school Academic director. A man with 25 years in the public school system (and a registered psychiatric nurse), Dr. McKenney and his staff have just finished writing a detailed and demanding curriculum. I spent some time reading through the English curriculum and was duly impressed (and I am not easy to impress!) Part of the rationale for this curriculum is to enable proper credit to be received for the work and learning the boys have done while at New Dominion when they return to their school, go on to college, into the military, or into the workplace. The teachers’ instruct and guide the boys who are otherwise working independently. The teachers are all certified by the State of Maryland. Boys can earn a high school degree or a GED. The pass scores for the GED are impressive. I was lucky to sit next to Mr. Skidmore at dinner at Mr. Romaine’s house—he had prepared the gumbo. Mr. Skidmore explained to me the research he is doing on honey bees for his second Master’s degree. 

Our first meeting with Mr. Phillips, a counselor who works with the boys who have sexual issues convinced me that he knows what he is doing. Although there was no chance to sit in on one of his groups, his description of the way he runs the group struck me as being professional, savvy, and realistic. He does not shy from the tough issues, and while his group is not required, most of the boys who need to be there do end up in that group. 

Living conditions at New Dominion are rustic but clean and well- kept. The boys live, and primarily cook, outside. Their few possessions are kept with military orderliness. 

New Dominion prefers that boys not be taking psycho-pharmaceutical drugs, but they are re-evaluating that position and are open to discussion. The outdoor-experiential staff is not as paper- credentialed (no master’s level of Ph.D. level therapists on staff) as at other programs, but that is within the context of the outdoor, experiential concept in which the program is very much rooted. Tom Mogle, in charge of recruiting their staff, looks for people with a BA who are willing to make at least a one year commitment to the program and have majored in psychology or counseling. Al Romaine made it clear that New Dominion is very pleased with the changes Tom has made in the staffing. 

But for all of this, there was one aspect of the program that I found to be truly extraordinary: extended wilderness trips are planned from start to finish, including all the details, entirely by the boys. A boy’s first trip will probably be one week; later trips will be two or even three weeks long. When they are out in this wilderness, the staff do not carry cell phones, beepers, or other means of communication. I recognize that many consultants and parents will wonder why they can’t just put a cell phone or something in a backpack and forget about it until or unless they need it, but while Tom and Al listened to queries about this, I think they feel it is an important aspect of the program. Because they may be out of touch for three or even four days, were I a parent of a boy on such a trip, I know I would have my heart in my throat until I heard my son had returned safely. Keeping the potential dangers in mind, I find this way of being-in-the- wilderness courageous—very courageous—and for some boys and families, an extremely important experience. Knowing that only you and the group are there for each other no matter what is a impressive way to foster courage, resourcefulness, recognition of how much each depends upon others, and a respect for nature. 

The New Dominion literature states that “Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Depression, Adjustments Disorder, ADHA, and Learning Disabilities” are the most common presenting diagnoses. I would like to add that for the boy and/or family for whom lack of courage is a major (if unidentified and undiagnosed) issue, this is surely a program to consider. 

Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

Site and content copyright © 2000 by Woodbury Reports Inc. All rights reserved.