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New Perspectives - Oct, 2000 Issue #74 

SageWalk, The Outdoor School
Bend, Oregon
Chris Kocurek, CEO

SageWalk, is a therapeutic wilderness program that serves as an intense intervention for teenagers and their families. Due to the changes in management and staff during early summer of 2000, we feel it appropriate to describe their new program. Sagewalk works with adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17, who are experiencing behavioral, emotional, academic, and/or family relationship problems. The program emphasizes problem solving and personal accountability and has a strong focus on emotional growth and self-discovery. The students and instructors live together in a natural environment that provides an opportunity to learn survival skills, how to communicate in relationship with others, and to be accountable for one’s actions. Students learn these skills by participating in group and individual therapy, academic studies, primitive camping, navigation and orienteering, service projects, goal setting workshops, food preparation, backpacking, and journal writing.

“SageWalk is designed to engage the students as quickly as possible so that they receive the maximum benefit from their participation in the program.” It is for this reason that they do not subscribe to a “philosophy of deprivation,” rather, they provide all essential gear and equipment upon enrollment, giving the students the opportunity to “offer up” their comforts as they progress in the program and are ready to replace them with their newly developed skills. “The result is a quicker, more impacting experience that allows each student to focus on “why they are SageWalk,” rather than being at SageWalk.”

The SageWalk program has two tracks, both of which focus on the preparing for the “next step.” They accept students on a rolling admissions basis, with a maximum number of nine students in a group at any one time. Each student’s individual needs determine which track is selected and how long the student will participate in the program. The Family Reunification Tract, a 42-day experience for students who will return home after graduation, is designed to ensure that the student’s growth and progress is sustained at home. This track includes an intense family component to aid in the family’s healing, and opporuses specific clinical strategies based on the strengths of the individual student and family.

The Preparation/Transition track provides a 28-day experience designed to prepare the student for the independence that is necessary to be successful in an academic environment away from the student’s home. The track also can be used for assessment to help families and professionals determine the “next step” for a student.

Sometimes special circumstances indicate the need for extended participation in either of the programs. The need for such an extension is evaluated clinically on an individual basis, and is based on therapeutic necessity.

Registered as an Oregon State Private School, successful completion of this program usually provides fully transferable credits. During the first week of enrollment an Individual Achievement Plan is developed for each student, and weekly contact is offered with the family and referral source. The students participate in daily activities as part of a group that includes at least two trained Instructors at all times. A doctorate or master’s prepared therapist supervises the clinical component, and a certified teacher supervises the academic curriculum. All students participate in group counseling and goal setting activities. If the therapist indicates the need, individual counseling is also available.

The SageWalk program is considered to only be the beginning step. Afterwards, the student and family is contacted regularly for a full year to monitor their progress. Post Graduation Specialists also provide support in conjunction with local professionals working with the student.

The program is “purposefully placed in a remote, serene part of the country.” The setting, the beautiful High Desert of Central Oregon, provides each student an “opportunity to experience personal growth away from distractions that interfere with the ability to learn effectively…Our students experience life in the outdoors with only Mother Nature and western juniper trees, sage, herds of elk, pronghorns, deer, and other indigenous plants and animals.

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.)

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