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Posted: Feb 28, 2008 07:40


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By: Lon Woodbury

Everybody seems to have their own ideas of what elements are the most important in the making of a quality school or program. This has been a topic of discussion among professionals working in the network of emotional growth/therapeutic schools and programs for years, and the opinions expressed vary widely.

Last month at the NATSAP conference, I was listening to Larry Dean Olsen, co-Founder of Anasazi Wilderness, give a talk on the ten most important elements of a wilderness program. It hit me that what he was presenting has wider implications than only for wilderness programs.

With appreciation to Larry Dean Olsen, here are the ten elements for a quality school/program to be successful. I slightly adapted them from his talk to broaden the spectrum from wilderness to the entire network.

  1. The main focus of the school or program needs to be the good of the students. Money and other things are important but are only secondary to the needs of the students.

  2. Every student deserves respect for their natural goodness. Even though the student might be secretive, manipulative or dishonest, he or she still has the right to be respected for the unique person he/ she is even while the staff handles the negative behavior.

  3. Each experience the student has should be as authentic as possible. Natural Consequences are much more effective as learning tools than arbitrary punishment or contrived challenges.

  4. The staff must be positive role models. The students will watch the staff closely and are much more likely to accept the lessons if the staff experience the activity right along with the students. Of course this means no special privileges for the staff while they are with the students.

  5. When the curriculum evolves out of the students' experiences and are a response to a student's questions, it will be much more effective.

  6. Therapeutic Interventions, to be effective, must be designed to awaken a change of heart in the student.

  7. Parent involvement, as much as they are able to participate, creates a foundation for healing by creating a strong motivation for the student to bond again with parents. Nothing is a better motivator for the student than the possibility of regaining a good relationship with their parents.

  8. Safety for the students, both physical and emotional, is always an overriding consideration for the staff. One of the best ways to help make experiences safe emotionally for the child is to listen closely to his/her concerns.

  9. Spiritual well-being and growth must always be kept in mind since all real growth, one way or another has at root a spiritual aspect.

  10. The staff must accept the concerns and rights of each child. How a student expresses concerns and demands rights can be used as clues and expressions of what is really important to the child. When properly interpreted, this means the child is telling you what he/ she needs.

These elements would actually apply equally well to residential boarding schools as well as wilderness programs. In fact, the ten most important elements are exactly what public schools or any educational organization needs to be successful.


I agree. I would also suggest that the proof is evident in the long and successful history of Anasazi itself.

Best Regards,

Randall Cook
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