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Schools & Program Visits - May, 2000 Issue #69 

Clear View
Sandpoint, ID
Mary Thielbahr

Visit Report by Loi Eberle on April 7, 2000

Clear View struck me as a rustic finishing school, designed to work with six girls ranging from twelve to twenty years old. Nestled in a peaceful clearing in a beautiful woods, inside this elegantly and warmly decorated log home, girls are taught how to be ladies, as well as how to become well-balanced human beings. In other words, the composure the girls seek to express in their communication with others has developed as a result of the girls’ hard work to come to terms with themselves, intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. In fact, the only way the girls can advance in the “level” system at Clear View is to work and demonstrate growth in their: communication with others, intellectual and academic progress, understanding of their emotions, spiritual insight, and physical fitness. While that may seem like a tall order for any woman, it is the direction in which we all need to move in order to be able to develop joy and peace of mind and to adequately cope with the problems we all encounter in our society.

Directed by Mary Thielbahr, MA, a licensed Educational Psychologist, and child, adolescent and family therapist, among her many credentials, provides the girls with many opportunities for individual and group therapy throughout the week; at least three sessions, more if needed. They work with Mary and two other Counselors who have joined her from other outdoor wilderness programs. Therapy sessions take place in the comfortable and attractive office next to the kitchen. The beautifully designed kitchen is in the central hub of the house. It opens to the dining and sitting areas that are lined by large windows revealing a view the wrap-around porch and peaceful woods and grassy commons. Outside can be seen the fire pit where ritual bonfire ceremonies take place, ritual being one of the many effective tools in this well-rounded program. In every room Mary has strived to develop a warm and aesthetically pleasing environment, from the fresh flowers to the stained glass window hangings.

Upstairs is a large loft that easily holds four beds, one for the counselor and one for each of the girls who are at that “level.” Each person also has their own dresser and ample space in the large closet at the end of the loft, near the sinks and mirrors. When new girls come into the program they continue to sleep in the loft until they have shown adequate growth in all of the five areas described above. At the ‘loft level,’ they can play board games, read and write, but have no access to videos or other privileges granted to the girls who are “top dogs,” the higher phase of the program. It is possible too, when a girl regresses in an area, such as physical fitness, as did one girl currently in the program, that she is demoted from being a “top dog,” back to the loft level, until she shows adequate progress in the identified area. The girls admitted this had been hard for the girl, but seemed confident that she would soon be doing “her work” in order to progress back to her previous level.

The girls at the “loft” level do their academic work through the accredited University of Nebraska Correspondence program, and can receive credit for these courses at their original high school. Once the girls have become “top dogs” they are able to attend classes, and even participate in some social events at the local Sandpoint High school. The girls taking correspondence courses are driven to their teacher/tutor’s house everyday to do their coursework. Generally, doing the correspondence courses enables one to work through the material more quickly, according to the girls, though the teacher and the girls felt that the Math course required extra instructional help when doing it by correspondence. The teacher was a good role models for the girls. She’s physically fit; her husband, by the way, is the girl’s personal trainer at the health club as well Coach for the Sandpoint Women’s Volleyball team.

I had the opportunity to speak with one girl who was new to the program, and one who had been there for over a year, who had recently become a “top dog.” I asked the “top dog” what it felt like to be at the high school – were the kids friendly, for example? She said when she started there, the other girl who was in the program with her took her around and introduced her to all her friends. Evidently the skills this other girl had learned through her year in the program had been helpful, since she had been elected Homecoming Queen this year!

I wondered about whether attending high school in this way, even driving to campus, offered the girls too much freedom. The girls assured me that they were closely monitored – even the slightest infraction was noticed, though they didn’t know how – but it always got back to them. It is true that in a small community, there are many watchful eyes – most of whom know each other – especially when their vigilance is requested. The girls can have “dates,” when they are “top dogs.” Mary explained that it’s important for girls to learn how to act with boys before they are on their own. The boy is invited to the house for a dinner that is cooked by the girl he wants to date. Of course the others join them for dinner, so it takes a special kind of guy who can withstand the scrutiny of so many female eyes. Also, if there are rumors about the boy, they soon surface and Mary is quick to forbid the interaction. Sometimes the girls are taken to town to see a movie. One girl was allowed to attend the prom.

Other privileges for the “top dogs” include living in their own suite of rooms downstairs, which is comfortably furnished to feel like a private apartment with large windows and lots of light. There they have their own refrigerator, TV (for videos) and CD player for the music of their choice, even their own washing machine! The “loft” girls must do their laundry at the laundromat, using their own money. One of the girls who had been in the program for the longest time even has a car, though it is closely monitored. This girl is about to transition to living on her own, but will continue to keep in close contact with Mary, as she makes the transition to leave the program. There is also a studio behind the house which is being remodeled to be used as a separate residence for the girls who are eighteen and older.

Mary feels she is able to take girls with some fairly serious problems, depending on how supportive their parents are for the program. She is in close contact with psychiatric hospital resources, should the need arise. She told me girls who stay with in the program for longer periods of time, for example, two and a half years, have the most success once they leave. The focus of this program is definitely to teach girls to become happy, competent women, who can function at a high level in all the areas described. She works with girls who want to develop their academic, social, emotional, spiritual and physical lives. They work out every week in the local health club, mow the grass, fix the meals, launder their clothes, and can even learn to paint from the house mother, an accomplished artist, all in addition to gaining high school credit or even, a diploma.

For the girl who wants to be there, who has already worked through a wilderness program or similar experience that has served to provide her with an awareness of her need for personal growth and who is willing to do the necessary work, this could be a wonderful opportunity.

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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