Schools & Program
Visits - Jan, 2000 Issue #65
New Dominion School
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.)