Northwoods is a program for 30 boys spread out between three unique sites, one in Sagle, ID, one in Bonners Ferry, ID and one in La Tigre, Costa Rica. I was able to visit the Sagle and Bonners Ferry sites. The Sagle site is located six miles south of Sandpoint in a sparsely populated area while the Bonners Ferry site is located in a very quiet residential neighborhood. Both are near Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Lake Pend Oreille, and numerous other outdoor attractions.
David Yeats founded Northwoods in 1993, and was later joined by Matt Fitzgerald. David is a licensed clinical social worker and served as a teacher and counselor for the CEDU schools for several years. Matt also worked for CEDU for over 10 years as an administrator and headmaster for various schools. While both David and Matt have extensive CEDU experience, they are not considered an emotional growth program.
However, their experience gained from CEDU cannot be overlooked in understanding their model. First, accountability is a critical component of Northwoods. Before a student enrolls at Northwoods, they must show an interest and willingness to be there for a minimum of one year. Once enrolled at Northwoods, students are held accountable for their commitment and behaviors. I was able to meet with several students and took a tour with them around the Sagle campus. The students said they all agreed to be at Northwoods and were obviously proud of their accomplishments and showed both a strong interest and excitement in all the varied projects they were involved with. They expressed ownership and pride of the farm. The students said that there were only three levels in the program. The first was "knowing the rules and breaking them," knowing the rules and not breaking them, and knowing the rules and helping others keep the rules. The simplicity was refreshing and not oppressive to the boys.
The Sagle site, called the Sagle farm, consists of one large, well appointed home that is reserved for the 18-year-old boys and is seen as a great goal and privilege. Another building housed the 17 and under boys and their dining facilities. Another structure was being remodeled as a band room for the boys. The grounds and buildings were well kept and gardening and other ground keeping projects were under way. The campus was replete with horses, llamas, sheep and domestic pets. The Bonners Ferry site consists of two well maintained homes tucked away in a residential neighborhood.
The boys begin their stay with Northwoods at Sagle and have a tightly scheduled day doing chores, feeding the animals, school, doing physical exercise and a variety of outdoor recreational activities. School is an important component of the Sagle campus with students involved in the Nebraska or Keystone independent study program. Some boys will choose to stay at the Sagle campus and others will aspire to moving to Bonners Ferry in order to attend the public high school. Those who choose to move to the Bonners Ferry home usually do so at the semester break and have to demonstrate behaviors and attitudes that will support them mixing with the local students. When the boys attend public schools, they have the added advantage of participating in the school's extra-curricular activities. The Costa Rican experience is generally three months in length and is both seen as a reward for success and an important cultural experience for the boys.
It was clear to this author that Northwoods provides a clear structure, accountability, and guidance to young men who demonstrate a desire to be there. Equally important, Northwoods has a strong belief and practice to engage boys in exciting and interesting healthy activities. They make every effort to assist boys in finding pleasure and joy in every day life. It is hard to imagine that the boys at Northwoods, or any boy for that matter, would not enjoy the activities surrounding them. It is through these exciting and interesting activities that Northwoods hopes to reach these young men. If one avoids referring students who cannot handle a reasonable degree of accountability or students who have severe psychiatric issues, Northwoods is a great place for young men to have the opportunity to flourish.