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Posted September 15, 2003 

Nephi, Utah
Mark Wardle, Program Director

[Visit in April, 2003 By Robert Kantar, Educational Consultant, Lyndonville, Vermont; 802-626-4620,]

Returning full time to my practice, I had an opportunity to visit Skyline Journey, among other Utah programs this past April. Skyline Journey’s Program Director, Mark Wardle, brings a great deal of experience to his family venture and pours all his strength and enthusiasm into staffing an excellent program. Nephi is a small town with a great Mexican restaurant and a modest home office. The family run business is personal, committed, and comforts our clients by making them feel that small is beautiful. Everyone is very busy and very committed. Mark took the time to show me where his students were in the desert by plotting their path on his computer. He can contact each group effectively using the latest radio technology.

To visit the students in the program, we headed out into the desert by truck, traveling on flatland for almost 100 miles, with only one small town between Nephi and the students. Sadly, I must report, McDonald’s found this remote desert town. We searched every waterhole we could find to locate wild horses, but failed, though we did see a lone antelope. Most importantly, Mark shared his philosophy, his plans for the students, and his family’s devotion to the children in their care. He described the stages of this program as “trails,” which each student must master to graduate the program. We intercepted staff traveling back and forth to support the students in the field, obviously being very conscientious about the safety of each child. At no time did I sense a troubled program or a lack of commitment. This program has incorporated many years of experience to consistently improve the safety of its students, devoting tremendous energy to staff training and support services that are focused upon improving the student’s well-being.

I visited with five students, spending a good hour interviewing them both individually and as a group. The professional staff gave me full freedom to question and probe on my own without them being present. My conversations with the students revealed them to be very sensitive and determined young people. I learned about each one’s sense of history, experience in the desert, and sense of progress. Most felt comfortable that they were being cared for and were working hard emotionally and physically, although they were looking forward to returning to civilization. They seemed to like their staff leaders, whom I found to be appropriately caring and well trained. I photographed them in their distinctive red uniforms and received their permission to show one of my clients. As a result of the skills they had acquired, one young lady demonstrated the beginning stages of starting a fire. She received support from the other students as well as some tips that she gracefully accepted. The students maintained journals that attested to the need and validity of the program for them. They agreed that the program was difficult and challenging, though it did not compare to a good day at the mall.

This is a program for students who need time to sort things out. It conveys to them a sense of bounty even in the desert, but helps them to realize that prosperity depends on being honest, working as a team and learning to counteract their self destructive behavior and addictive thinking, and to develop anger management. They demonstrated that the difficult issues that brought them to the desert were legitimate for self-exploration and insight.

I held off writing this article until the student I placed here had completed the program. She is making excellent progress and indicated clearly to me that the program worked for her. Though she felt safe, she didn’t like revealing the extent of her drug problem, but felt support as she exposed herself to self-discovery.

After six weeks at Skyline, my client was tested by a doctorate level clinical psychologist who wrote an extensive report. The report was well documented and included student and family history, a review of records, an intensive interview with the student and a full battery of tests directed at intellectual ability and achievement, as well as personality and emotional issues. I was able to review the report in detail with my client and she validated its content with considerable insight. Clearly this report was at the professional level of the work done here in northern New England with my clinical colleagues.

I think Skyline is an excellent resource for a young person who can respond to kindness and encouragement. I think the program is well conceived, well staffed and demonstrates a high level of safety and honest concern for the students they serve.

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