& Program Visits - May, 2001 Issue #81
Clark Fork, Idaho
Visit on April 4, 2001 by Loi Eberle, M.A.
Editor of Woodbury Reports
Whiteley Meadows, outside of Clark Fork, Idaho, conveyed a feeling of a gentle, loving country home. This family-style program offers a chance for a few adolescent boys (and in the future they are considering girls) to experience a kind of life style that seems harder to find these days. Heading down the remote county road east of Sandpoint, Idaho, for my visit, driving into the panorama of stunning mountains, I felt I was in a remote part of the country. Yet I realized it wasn’t that far from the nearest town, since owner/operator, Claudia Whiteley, drives to Clark Fork everyday because she’s a full-time Spanish teacher at the jr/high school there. In fact, if her residents miss the school bus, perhaps succumbing to the urge to avoid class, she simply takes them with her on her drive to school that day.
One of the goals of this program, which currently houses a few adolescent and pre-adolescent boys, is to prepare them to move forward into the role of a collegiate candidate. Claudia and her husband, Gary, help their residents to develop a broad range of interests, encouraging them to overcome past adversities through strength of character and personal growth. Claudia and Gary accomplish this by reintroducing and reinforcing the values and inherent qualities that had been instilled in the young adolescents early in life, but with which they had temporarily lost touch, as a result of circumstances such as negative peer groups.
At Whiteley Meadows, the boys are given opportunities to learn new coping skills so they can modify their past behaviors that did not serve them. Whitely Meadows describes their program as a “traditional academic preparation in a highly structured and supervised setting.” Having developed their program to “work with students who have not recognized nor utilized their full potential in the typical educational setting,” the students are challenged to attain their grade level and above.
Each day is structured around the learning process. Claudia emphasizes this commitment by sitting down with the boys each night after dinner, and tutoring them. Realizing she does this after teaching school all day, I expressed surprise at her energy. Her husband and another consultant assured me that her tremendous sense of dedication to the young residents in the program came in part from the joy she experienced in watching them succeed.
That is probably how the one young resident I met, who had arrived there a year and a half behind in school, was now on the honor roll for his appropriate grade level. He is also the president of his class. Most impressive, perhaps, was that this boy, who was originally there due to anger issues, had been given an award for being the basketball player showing the best sportsmanship on his varsity team. I regretted not being able to meet the other boys who were home on spring break, though I heard similar accounts of their success, from Claudia as well as the consultant who had placed them there.
The boys attend Clark Fork Jr./Sr. High School. This fully accredited school of 150 students offers a 10 to 1 student-teacher ratio. It is not only online, but has a fully equipped distant learning classroom linked to other resources of the Pacific Northwest. Claudia feels this learning setting allows for individual attention and mentoring, which I am sure is reinforced through her friendships with the other teachers on staff.
Claudia’s husband, Gary, showed a similar kind of caring for the boys and spoke with a lot of enthusiasm for teaching them how to help on the ranch. For fun, he takes them fishing, hiking and on special outings, for example to attend sports events in surrounding cities. At home the boys have daily routines and responsibilities such as personal laundry, making their beds and being part of the rotation for cleaning house, family food preparation, shoveling snow and bringing in wood. Fridays nights, reserved for recreation, can include going to age-appropriate first-run movies, roller blading and dinner at local restaurants.
As students progress in the program they receive special incentives, which may include participation in the extracurricular school sports such as basketball, football, volleyball or floor hockey. They can also be involved in working with the animals, or receiving private riding lessons, either Western or English. If they wish, the ranch will provide stock such as rabbits, fowl, goats, sheep or cows, for participation in 4H.
The day I visited, I had to schedule around a ski trip that Claudia was taking with the boy who had not gone home for spring break, along with a few honors students from her class. Realizing that “boredom is a classic affliction of adolescents,” they make sure to take full advantage of their location, whether it is water skiing, snowboarding, canoeing, or riding their horses.
Certainly this program isn’t for everyone; potential residents would be those who would benefit from structure and nurturing, but are free from serious emotional problems that would preclude a public school setting. Their behavior upon arrival would have to be of a caliber that would enable them to live in a household with other younger boys, and be willing to earn the privileges that were available in terms of activities and living arrangements.
Although there is not a counselor in the residence per se, an art therapist, Linda Clawson, works with the residents each week. Claudia feels the level of Linda’s work is quite insightful. Linda has a B.A. in Art and a Masters Degree in Counseling and Development. She plans on sitting for her L.P.C. exam in the near future. She has experience through mental health services in Alternative and Public schools and has worked with children who have experienced problems including physical/sexual abuse, lying disorders, eating disorders, suicide attempts, anxiety disorders, depression, alcohol and drug dependency, and conduct disorders. Claudia Whiteley is a mother of three adult children who she raised in Chile and has been an educator for 30 years. After being widowed in 1995, she followed through with a dream she shared with her late husband, to turn their little petting zoo type ranch in Idaho into a home for boys. He had been raised in an old fashioned orphanage as a child and knew the importance of “giving the children a chance.” Husband Gary has worked with children in a variety of capacities throughout his life and shares this dream.
This summer Claudia is going for one week for a cruise on the Royal Caribbean, stopping in Catalina Island and Mexico. She will take the 11 year old boy with her who has been with the program for over a year, as well as her older daughter. Gary will remain on the ranch. The other boy resident will be going to football camp this summer as soon as school ends, to prepare for starting on the varsity team in the fall at the HS.
My impression of this program is that it provides a chance for an adolescent to experience life in the country with a loving family and a small school, where the teachers know the students well and care about helping them succeed. The teachers are in close contact with the student body and are quick to let Claudia know if they see anything that alarms them.
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