The Wediko School and Treatment Program is a residential treatment center for boys, located in rural New Hampshire, about a two-hour drive from Boston. It is a unit of Wediko Children's Services, a social service agency that serves at-risk and emotionally disturbed children and adolescents in the New England area. The residential program serves boys ranging in age from 10 to16. The current enrollment is about 35, with a capacity of 40 students. The majority of boys (30 of the 35) are from New Hampshire, with the remainder from various other states throughout the country. Currently, the five out-of-state residents come from states in the West, Midwest and Northeast. All of the students from New Hampshire are publicly funded. The other students are mainly private pay, although I was told that a number of them are in the process of seeking public funding.
Beth Vezina, co-director of the Wediko School and Residential Treatment Program, met with me to explain the program and answer my questions. She said that Wediko takes boys with a wide range of problems, including complex learning/ psychiatric/ family problems, as well as boys with histories of trauma and reactive attachment disorder, and those who have been aggressive or sexually inappropriate. About 20 percent of the population at Wediko has been adjudicated by the family court, mainly in New Hampshire. In order to benefit from the verbal and cognitive aspects of the treatment program, residents should have at least a low average IQ level. Boys with schizophrenia or significant brain injury or those who are active substance abusers or with histories of being sexual predators would generally not be accepted into Wediko's residential program. Most Wediko residents arrive there from special education programs in community-based public schools, and a few come from psychiatric hospitals or day treatment programs. The vast majority of boys are discharged back home, to live with their families.
According to Beth, Wediko utilizes a strength-based treatment model in which family involvement and milieu therapy are central elements. Throughout the day the boys are given frequent feedback by their counselors and teachers, and an attempt is made to emphasize praise and positive reinforcement rather than criticism or punishment. Though it is not a licensing requirement, all but two of the direct care counselors have bachelor degrees; all supervisors have either masters or doctoral degrees. All of the residents participate in group therapy and family therapy; individual therapy is offered on an as needed basis. Most of the boys are on psychiatric medications and there is a nurse on grounds every weekday. A therapeutic horseback riding program, known as Horse Power which utilizes the facilities at a nearby farm, is available to boys who request it.
The academic program at Wediko is based on the New Hampshire state curriculum. Each class has from eight to ten students, one teacher and two assistant teachers. The school follows the IEP that most students already have, and individual tutoring in math and reading can be offered to those who need it. Aside from the core academic subjects and physical education, classes are offered in culinary arts, small animal care, landscaping and computers. There is an inter-scholastic basketball team that competes against neighboring schools.
I visited Wediko on a weekend in the middle of winter, on a clear mid-February day. The rural campus is located at the end of a long, winding country road, giving it the isolated, country-like atmosphere that often helps to bring out the best in troubled teens. The attractive compact campus was, of course, covered in snow and ice. I was greeted by Keeley, a direct care counselor who was friendly and articulate and who appeared to be in her early 20's. She invited me in from the cold, explaining that she was returning to the weekend dorm with some supplies for a boy who had a mild cold. In the dorm, I spent some time talking with Jeff Grenga, the weekend program coordinator, who seemed knowledgeable and caring. He explained the agency's policy of encouraging home visits each weekend; as a result only a few boys are left on campus for Saturday and Sunday. Those who remain on campus generally do so because of unique family or behavior problems or because their families live too far away. Even so, because home visits and family participation are considered important parts of the treatment program at Wediko, home visits do not have to be earned, and every family is required to have at least one on-grounds family therapy meeting per month, regardless of where they live.
I observed a group of about five boys. They were being supervised by two counselors, Keeley and a young man, also in his early 20's. The boys were seated at a table in the community room of the dorm, playing a game of Monopoly. Though a few seemed to have difficulty sitting still for the game, all of the boys played appropriately and seemed to be having a good time. However, as Jeff Grenga had explained to me earlier, the Monopoly game had not been chosen merely as a way of having fun. Some months ago, the boys had been introduced to a computer version of this game, then to the classic version of the board game, and now to a contemporary version of it. The goal, according to Jeff, was to teach social and life skills by moving from the computer monitor to more direct interaction and social problem-solving while also learning some lessons about money and property ownership.
The Wediko School and Residential Treatment Program is a 12-month program with a 300-day calendar. A number of services, including family therapy, are offered on Sundays, as that is often the day on which parents return their sons to the campus and are thus available for face-to-face meetings. I was told that the program is licensed by the State of New Hampshire as an approved special education program and as a child care institution, and that it is certified by the state as an intensive residential facility. In addition to the New Hampshire based residential program that I visited, Wediko Children's Services also has a consultation and treatment program for the Boston public school system, and a co-ed summer program for children and adolescents with behavioral or emotional problems.
About the Author: Stephen Migden is a psychologist and educational consultant who works with behavior disordered, emotionally disturbed and learning disabled students of all ages. His office is in Roslyn Heights, NY. Visit Dr. Migden's website at www.psych-edservices.com or call 516 625-0824 for more information.