Visit Reports 

Educational Consultants helping parents and professionals since 1989.

Free eAlerts

 For FREE updates... 
enter your email
address and click

Online News

New Perspectives
Visit Reports
Seen n Heard
Employment Listings

Site Guide

Schools & Programs
Discussion Forum
Information Services
Newsletter Archives
Online Store
Contact Us

Posted February 17, 2003 

Wisdom Ranch School
John W. Tucker
Co-Founder and Director of Admissions
fax: 208-527-4751

[Visit Report By Peter Sturtevant, M.A., The School Counseling Group, Inc.]

My visit to Wisdom Ranch School began with Thai food in the western town of Hailey, Idaho. There I enjoyed a meal with the program’s founders, John Tucker and Monte MacConnell, Monte’s wife Anne, and their brand new baby, Montana. Monte was running late. Time operates differently on the ranch. “Ranch Time” is determined by the position of the sun, the nature of the weather, and the tasks that need to be accomplished. Because the kids’ needs come first, they rarely operate on the clock.

For the students of Wisdom Ranch School, “ranch time” is the first lesson in exploring the truth of their experience. Ranch time provides both a context and a metaphor for their personal growth and development. Students are asked to discover for themselves in this context. Referred to as “the boys”, students are aged 14 and older, with most being in their mid to upper teens. At the ranch, they are challenged to fully explore context and then create their own in which to make meaning in a world which will make it for you if you are not clear in principles and disciplined in action and understanding. The boys at the ranch are at the center of their growth; it is not imposed upon them from above. Rather, they lead themselves with the careful guidance and input from a staff carefully selected for their temperament and experience.

Located in Arco, Idaho, just northeast of the Craters of the Moon National Monument, in a wide valley west and south of Sun Valley, Idaho, Wisdom Ranch rises quietly from the dusty homestead and horse paddock that informs its humble first impression to the lovely hills on which the yurts are located a few hundred yards above. The ranch is blessed with a number of freshwater springs that, when piped underground, provide water for the students and staff. Students live in Yurts, which are attractive, comfortable, wood floored structures. There is a separate kitchen and bathhouse. Students are responsible for drawing water and for building and maintaining fires that heat the Yurts. In addition they are responsible for cooking all of their meals and even plan what food will be bought. The context for developing group and personal responsibility is clear here.

Decision-making occurs as a result of a non-judgmental, active mentoring process. Students must be willing to participate in the program and are required to actively develop self-awareness, as well as the specifics of their academic and personal goals, and the process by which they will achieve and build upon them.

I do not know of a program that is more creative or flexible, yet more active and dynamic in helping students to define and meet their needs. This is a large part of the magic of the place.

When I arrived at the ranch on a gorgeous summer day in July with my three boys in tow, my trusty rental had succumbed to the caprices of the long unpaved road that leads up to the ranch from Craters of the Moon. Instantly, Monte had my boys learn to jack the car and change the tire. It was one of those moments where Monte’s belief in the power of experiential education revealed itself so plainly to me as if built from the core of his being. Afterwards, he took my boys up to tour an abandoned mine on the property and for a lesson on some of the school’s many horses.

Not all students are as easily engaged. One student, my client, arrived with a willingness to try the program but with virtually no interest or ability when it came to building a context for himself, this is to say he was stuck, and perhaps comfortably so. Kicked out of school, he earned his GED, worked for hourly wages at a job he tolerated but did not love, lived at home and ran the streets with impunity. This boy acted more like a high-spirited 16 year-old with a new license and few boundaries then what he in fact was: a 19 year-old young man preparing for college, the work force, a life of meaning and responsible relationships. The staff was able to develop a relationship with this young man, a feat in itself. After much discussion, a spark was struck. A customized program was created that would utilize the boy’s interest in automobile mechanics and the crying need to develop a context upon which to further build relationship with mentors. He would explore his strengths and in doing so would come face to face with his paralyzing pattern of high-sounding talk, with little consequent action. This is a pattern all too familiar for kids who present an aura of pride and invincibility in rising proportion to their level of school and social rejection.

A junked Land Rover was found and purchased by the boy for a modest sum. He would rebuild it. Meanwhile, he would be planning – in the company of a mentor who would eventually accompany him- a “safari” through Idaho as well as a guided journey into self and then outward. This is far from a typical ranch experience.

Most of the boys are in transition and clearly between one setting and another. They stay for at least 5 months, with an opportunity to extend their stay and work towards establishing and achieving specific academic and personal goals. Another client of mine, a high school drop out, was able to get a high school diploma at the ranch and made great strides in communicating more openly and effectively with his family, overcame his reliance on substances and is presently enrolled at University of Colorado at Boulder.

Boys come to Wisdom Ranch School who are talented and have been lost or hurt or misunderstood. Wisdom Ranch School is a nice step-down from a successful experience in more intensive and staff driven settings, such as wilderness programs or RTCs – or a failed experience at a day or boarding school where a boy has struggled with self-respect, clarity, or self-destructive patterns of thought or action.

John and Monte will listen to any story, but will be careful about whom they will take. A boy must have some motivation and some desire to better himself. He must be able to respond to a group, and to powerful relationships. In most cases, boys should have a desire to further their education. The ranch is able to work with high school students, college aspirants, those needing a diploma or GED, or simply those who need to find themselves out of their present paralyzing personal/social context. A consulting psychiatrist is available for those who need evaluations or medications.

Wisdom Ranch School is not for everybody. But for a student who responds to a flexible mentoring relationship with superb, non-judgmental people in a ranch setting, this is the place. There are many opportunities for epiphanies here, as there is a belief in creativity and energy – and these are boundless commodities on the ranch. The staff is worldly, idealistic, highly educated, experienced, involved and multi talented. I urge you to call John Tucker to explore in greater depth the nature and structure of the academic and living program, the informative backgrounds of individual staff members, as well as to explore how Wisdom Ranch School could meet the individual needs of your clients.

PO Box 1671 | Bonners Ferry, ID 83805 | 208-267-5550
Copyright © 1995-2017 by Strugglingteens,LLC. All rights reserved.    Privacy Policy