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Posted July 24, 2003 

King George School, Phoenix Outdoor Education Program, Spruce Mountain Inn, and Hampshire Country School

[Visits on July 23-25 By Renee LeWinter Goldberg, Ed.D., CEP and Marvin A.Goldberg, MSW, Options in Education,, 617-864-8864]

We visited Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom July 23-25, the few days that Vermont had hotter temperatures than Boston! Apparently the weather broke all records since 1988. However, that didn’t curb our visits.

We began at the King George School Monday, June 23 and continued on to Phoenix Outdoor Education Center the next day. Rae Ann Knopf, Executive Director, and Bill Knopf, Admissions Counselor, for both programs met us with iced tea, and we decided to chat on the porch attached to the main office before beginning our tour. Kia, their 8 week old wolf and Akita puppy, competed for our attention, but eventually sank down under a table to nap! We had visited King George in December 2000, so the school looked much different when not covered with snow and ice! Several buildings have been added or refurbished since our first visit. The school’s beauty was breathtaking and the views of Burke Mountain were spectacular.

Bill and Rae Ann explained that clinical staff had been brought on campus to work with the students rather than taking students into Sutton for therapy and medical management, thus strengthening King George’s services. We were able to talk with the two therapists who are on staff as well as one of the two consulting psychiatrists. The campus had fewer students than usual, some had just graduated and others were on break, but we did get to see and meet a representative sample.

Our student tour guide was scheduled to leave within the next few months and would be going to a private day school in her community. She told us that she is much happier than when she first arrived and felt she had learned better communication skills to use with her family. We were pleased to learn about the community service component of the curriculum, which appears to be quite successful. We saw the girls’ dorm, weight room, darkroom for 6, kilns, drawing and painting facilities, theater, and offices. Students are encouraged to personalize their rooms, which were quite attractive.

The next morning Bill escorted us to the Phoenix Outdoor Education Center, where we met the Program Director, Brian Rossiter. We asked him what convinced parents to chose this brand-new program, and he discussed the unique nature of the Center. Though coed groups are planned, their first group consisted of four boys who had arrived that week. We were able to talk with all the boys, who were working on their journals, and we congratulated them for being pioneers. They were working in the largest of four yurts, Asian-style circular residences that the staff had built. The largest yurt was used as meeting as well as classroom space. The yurts have radiant-heated floors for use in the winter. Additional heat wasn’t needed the day we visited! We chatted with two special education teachers who were working on the academic curriculum with the students. I noticed wide variety in their writing abilities, which were consistent with their special needs. The King George clinical staff visits Phoenix to work with program participants.

The 30-day Phoenix program, designed for 12 to 15 year-olds, is divided into four phases. After an orientation of approximately one-week where the participants work on the concept of personal mastery, the students go out a two-week expedition. The third phase focuses on integrating what has been learned, and the fourth phase involves two-days for reconnecting with family. Each phase has instruction of distinct communication skills and academics focused around leadership and physical conditioning as well as a family piece in preparation for the final family workshop. Both parents and students participate in journaling. Families receive regular updates from their child’s therapist and communicate through letter writing. At both King George and Phoenix, the professionals were very experienced and each functioned in a variety of roles to help participants meet their specific goals.

We then drove to Plainfield, Vermont for our appointment with Candace Beardsley, founder and Director of Spruce Mountain Inn, which has resident and day treatment for adults and young adults with psychiatric diagnoses. Housed in the former president’s house of Goddard College, which has closed and become a distance learning graduate school, the Inn was comfortable and welcoming. We were impressed by the intensive clinical support given to the clients who learn independent living skills as well receive vocational programming. All students are employed in either jobs or internships.

All Spruce Mountain Inn participants receive a combination of individual and group therapy, determined by the clinical staff and case managers. They must also work with a psychiatrist or case-manager in the community. Stress management, substance abuse and wellness classes are provided for clients as needed.

We spoke with one client who proudly escorted us to his room and talked about receiving a new roommate that day. The length of stay varies, depending upon clients’ needs. Transition plans assist the movement back into the community or to other situations and everyone is placed in an internship or job, which is a plus of the Inn.

Candace Beardsley and Ed Levin, the Assistant Director, have maintained a comfortable and professionally run environment at Spruce Mountain for 20 years. They provide a stable, caring environment for their clients and support for family members, while striving to prepare the participants for independent lives.

Hampshire Country School, a small boarding school in Rindge, New Hampshire for boys who enroll when they are between 9 and 15 years of age. Bill Dickerman, Headmaster, described Hampshire as appropriate for students of above average to gifted cognitive ability who simply don’t fit in to other academic and/or social settings. They have a maximum of 25 boarding students and no day students, on a 1700-acre campus that includes three ponds, fields, streams, an old mill, and at least one waterfall. The school felt more like a summer camp with no campers because Hampshire does not have a summer program. Since we met at a summer camp and worked two more summers after we were married, at overnight camps in Georgia and Canada, we felt right at home at Hampshire. It is quite beautiful and unspoiled.

We sense that the students who live here during the academic year are comfortable and well cared for in the family-style environment where four dorms each house 6-8 students and a full-time house parent. Faculty also can live in the dorms, and many do. Bill Dickerman has been with the school for 32 years as a faculty member, becoming the Headmaster in 1996 after the schools’ second headmaster retired. Bill has recently become a house parent and enjoys that role. He clearly loves the place and is committed to its mission of educating the boys to attain their potential and develop socially. Many of their students do not fit easily into other educational environments; Hampshire provides a safe environment. Bill says they typically receive 600 to 700 inquiries a year, but many parents don’t pursue admission when they understand the unique nature of the school. Faculty members encourage play; hobbies and their passions are incorporated into the Hampshire’s instruction. Bill discussed his love of brass instruments, which he included in his classes and another faculty member incorporates a two-level intricate model train community in his teaching.

Hampshire is unique in a number of ways. TV is not allowed, and there is no Internet access for students! Computers are used only for writing. Reading is encouraged and many students are voracious readers. The natural environment becomes the basis for much of Hampshire’s education, which includes traditional academics taught untraditionally, music, theater, field trips to art and cultural events, and free time to think and write.

While we were on campus, several current and former faculty members and students were gathering to prepare for an upcoming wedding to be held on campus. Clearly Hampshire is beloved by many, including its Headmaster, and we found it to be a unique and caring environment. We will return during the academic year to meet the students and see Hampshire in action.

All four programs we visited provide individualized programs tailored to the unique needs of their clients and families. Their beautiful location in rural New Hampshire and Vermont contribute to peaceful and soothing environments.

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