We have all experienced this scenario: The family is jubilant from the wilderness experience and all the progress "little Johnny" has made. In a short time we have achieved a great deal: An assessment of the child in a therapeutic setting, a psychological evaluation, a nice chunk of therapeutic work completed, a working rapport with the parents, and finally some true success and accomplishment for the child. The parents have come to grips with the idea that Johnny will need more, and they have made an educated and balanced decision about where Johnny needs to go next.
Great? I, the educational consultant, can now breathe - we are in great shape.
Soon after enrollment into the new program, the "fresh face" of wilderness begins to fade, Johnny figures out that the new and uninformed staff is not aware of his old behavior patterns and reverts back to the old little Johnny's ways and my phone starts ringing with parents saying, "Why does it feel like we are starting all over again?"
So, what's missing?
The admissions departments at these schools do an exceptional job in contacting the wilderness program as part of their screening process. Great!!!
Wilderness programs task themselves with timely completion of the discharge summary. Great!!!
Nevertheless, it's not enough (and whether or not those discharge summaries are even read is something I have my doubts about). The written word loses many of the nuances necessary to determine the difference between truly understanding a child and seeing just a two-dimensional representation of a child. As educational consultants, our careers depend on savvy communication, and we know all too well that nuances are never written.
A conversation must happen between the child's primary wilderness therapist and the primary counselor at the new school!!! However, this conversation is too often missing. Now, in a perfect world, the "curriculum" for this conversation would read something like the following:
What worked and didn't work with the child therapeutically in the woods?
What patterns did both staff and students observe?
How were the interactions with the parents?
Were the parents willing to work also?
What insights did the child gain about themselves, their parents, family, friends and the world?
Any exceptionally difficult or wonderful times?
What work is ahead for this student?
Without sharing the vital information that emerges from the wilderness experience with the new school, we are not only setting our students up for an easily avoidable setback at their new school or program, but we are also throwing away part of the value of the incredible tool of the wilderness component.
Therefore, my request is simple. Join me in encouraging, or even requiring, that the counselors from both the wilderness program and the new school have substantive transition conversations. It will happen, if we make it happen.
About the Author: Educational Consultant Paula Rudy has over 23 years of combined experience as a founding staff member of a therapeutic boarding school and educational consultant. She works with families throughout the US and internationally, focusing on special needs placement for students ages 12-24.
October 21, 2006
I am in total agreement with Paula on this subject and am actually quite surprised that this type of communication during the transition period does not currently exist. My son is in his first week at SUWS and our goal is to move him on to the right school for the remaining high school years.
I had not even contemplated the idea that he may "plopped" into a new environment after all this testing and hard work by his wilderness school. He's an individual, has his own soul and his own reasons for his actions. If you've been able to reach inside of him to find out the "why" , please carry forward, in detail, anything you may have learned to help him.