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Posted October 2, 2003 

Temagami, Ontario, Canada
Colin Rayner, Director of Admissions

[Visit Report from June 30, 2003]
By Lon Woodbury, C.E.P.]

Temagami Wilderness Academy is about four hours north of Toronto, in the sparsely settled wilderness of northern Ontario. We drove past an area of uncounted scenic lakes, a destination for urban dwellers looking for prime hunting and fishing spots, or to just get away from it all for a few days. The Academy is on the banks of one of these lakes, 47 miles north of the city of North Bay, and 13 miles south of the town of Temagami. At first glance, it looks like a summer camp, because for many years that was what it was. Specifically, starting in 1965 it was an Outfitting Center, which over the years started taking in student and corporate groups for retreats. Participants would stay in rustic cabins dotted around the property, with the prime ones being close to the lakefront. In the center of the property is the main Lodge that currently doubles as a dinning room, classrooms, and social center.

By 1998, short-term summer wilderness trips for struggling teens were being based out of the Center, while continuing with their mainstream clients. Three years ago they expanded and began taking in children year round, augmenting their structure and the healing aspect of the wilderness with the addition of academics. Thus was born the Temagami Wilderness Academy, a school for boys. At the present time they have transitioned to working exclusively with struggling teens and the property now serves both as a base camp for wilderness expeditions and as a year round school. The wilderness expeditions are a separate program and coed, but participation in the wilderness program is a requirement before a student can be enrolled in the Academy.

During my visit, all the wilderness students were out in the field, so I was exclusively looking at the Academy. The boys looked like they were in various degrees of settling in; some looked like they were reluctant to be there, others seemed to be appreciative of the opportunity. They were polite and cooperative, and several of them were doing better in school than they had ever done before. Their style of dress was pretty much the variety you would see with any group of teenage boys, except the more shocking style of dress is not allowed. The boys who had been there some time and had demonstrated responsibility in the program were allowed more latitude, such as to have their own music in their rooms. There are outdoor activities every day and while we were there, most of the boys enjoyed afternoon group swimming excursions at one of the surrounding lakes.

The Academy follows the Ontario Education Ministry curriculum and is fully licensed and accredited as a school by the Ontario Education Ministry. This serves as the main regulatory agency for the Academy; there are no Health & Welfare licensing requirements for private programs in Ontario for teenagers as there are for programs in the States. Academics are largely one on one. The Academic Director, an accredited teacher, works with the students to select the courses they need for graduation and supervises their schoolwork. She functions largely as a tutor, using standard textbooks and distance learning resources. To speed up the process, they are expanding their Internet access to bypass the delays that are inherent in having their work sent through the mail to be scored by the Education Ministry, as has been the case in the past.

When justified, they use a satellite campus called the Blue Demon for some of the boys. Although a person can drive there over dirt roads, the best route is by way of a half hour flight from Temagami, over countless lakes and spectacular scenery, giving the impression of being in a very remote place.

Two dynamic young people head the staff. Chris Hill took over recently as school director after the popular previous director was killed in a tragic traffic accident in December. He has added Dawn Antonissen as Academic Director. She was raised in the area, is an Ontario Education Ministry accredited teacher and has had international teaching experience, mostly in Latin America schools. Although new to their jobs, I was impressed by their grasp of the issues that come from working with struggling teens, and their energy in relating to the young men. They seemed to be rapidly getting on top of some of the problems that had developed during the painful transition.

The appropriate student for this school is one who has had some mild behavior problems, and/or is floundering back home or in traditional schooling. Teens who are oppositional, have serious clinical problems, or are violent would not be an appropriate match. The school is not geared to work with these more difficult boys, but they can help boys who are floundering, making poor choices and needing structure and direction.

Being located in Canada gives them both advantages and disadvantages. A major advantage is that compared to similar programs in the States, their tuition is quite inexpensive, due to the favorable rate of exchange between the American and Canadian dollar. The disadvantage is that Temagami lacks a pool of potential staff members who have experience working with struggling teens in a private school setting. When a school for struggling teens in the States has a staff vacancy, they can choose from several people who have had years of experience working in comparable private schools and programs. In Canada, due to the difficulty of obtaining a Green Card, Temagami is mostly limited to Canadian citizens, whom they have to train from scratch. In many ways, Temagami is having to reinvent the wheel, and compares to where State side programs were in the 1970s and 1980s.

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