How school works in our Hybrid Model Wilderness Therapy Program

Most of us imagine wilderness therapy to be weeks in the woods. Often, if “academic courses” are offered, they are facilitated in an environment that is far from the formal school and classroom experience and often do not align with a student’s course and credit needs. Journaling around a campfire, exploring flora and fauna along the trail, learning about the history of a national forest while hiking are all valuable learning experiences but during this time students are falling behind while the school year moves forward or while summer school is taking place. At Summit Achievement we make time for both a traditional classroom experience and adventures into the wilderness. Rather than merging both, we divide the week – three days in the classroom, four days in the wilderness.

A formal school and classroom experience is important for students participating in wilderness therapy as they are able to practice transferring the growing skills in communication, respect, problem-solving, team-work, confidence, self-reliance, and responsibility to the classroom weekly. They have therapists, guides, and teachers on-campus to discuss those experiences and help them bridge the gap from wilderness to school; they are supported in harnessing the strength and grit they have proven to possess in the wilderness and applying it to challenges in the classroom. Offering teenagers the opportunity weekly to spend time in the wilderness and in school with a therapeutic-centered approach is an experience we truly believe can help families and students break free from barriers and challenges, such as school-avoidance and refusal.

Now you’re probably wondering how a wilderness program can offer a formal school experience when new students are enrolling every week or month and ages range from 7th to 12th grade. A blended learning approach allows for a formal school day and rotating classroom schedule. Blended learning utilizes online courses so that students can begin their courses any time of year and move at their own pace. They are enrolled in courses that best suit their current level and current semester and that most closely match what they were most recently studying. These online courses are blended with in-classroom teachers supporting students with one-to-one coaching and instruction which allows flexibility in identifying and practicing interventions, tools, and strategies for overcoming a wide variety of learning and classroom-based challenges.

At Summit Achievement, we make the most of the three-day school week providing structure with a daily schedule that rotates through English, math, social studies, and science classes. Any of these subjects can be swapped for a world language or elective if needed. Students also attend study hall in the evenings four days a week. Short-term and long-term goals are set weekly to keep students on-track while adjusting these goals as scaffolding is reduced. These goals are set with an academic advisor and they are shared with therapists, parents, educational consultants, and schools so there can be a team approach to planning for the student’s “next steps”.