Why Does Summit Achievement have an Academic Component when other Wilderness Therapy Programs do not?

Summit Achievement has had an academic component since it started operations in 1996. The impetus, at that time, was that one of the co-founders was working as a psychotherapist at a Northeast Boarding School and counseled many students who had gone to wilderness programs before enrolling at the school. He observed that many of those students did well in outdoor programming and extracurricular activities but had not developed the skills or understanding of their learning styles to manage the academic challenges they faced in a traditional environment. Subsequently, many of those students were asked to leave the boarding school before completing the academic year. When he was asked to help start Summit Achievement he insisted that the program have an academic component so students could be assessed and educated in a traditional classroom in order to help them transition back to an academic environment. Although it would have been a great deal cheaper to start and run a wilderness program without an educational component it would have left families and students short changed. We illustrate this as our outcome data reveals that 77% of Summit students return home or to a traditional boarding school environment.


That beginning impetus of Summit’s academic program is more relevant today than it was when Summit first started as more research is showing that the more time away from school the further students, with or without learning disabilities, will be behind when they return to a traditional academic setting. Although some wilderness program profess that school work is “not important” during treatment it should be pointed out that a young person with a learning disability who is not attending school for two months or more could get behind by over a year in school work. This can often compound the anxiety and depression that drove the need for treatment to begin with . The data is showing that young people with learning challenges need an extended school year as to not regress in school and the research on the extended school years reveals this . The more time away from school environments the further a teen is from graduating high school.


The National Center for Learning Disabilities recently reported that 1 in 5 children have a learning and/or attention issue such as dyslexia and ADHD. The report “reveals that children with learning and attention issues are as smart as their peers and can achieve high levels but too often are misunderstood as lazy or unintelligent. Without the right academic or emotional support, they are more likely to repeat a grade, get suspended or drop out”. Summit’s program is set up to help identify if a teen has a learning disability that may be the underpinnings of anxiety, depression, behavioral issues and/or substance abuse for which the troubled teen was referred to Summit in the first place. Summit Achievement clearly recognizes that some of the mental health issues that young people are referred to the program for can be traced to an undiagnosed learning, attentional, or processing issue. Summit’s hybrid model and available neuropsychological testing can help identify these issues earlier than a wilderness program without an academic component, saving young people and their families time and money when trying to decide where to go after wilderness.


Summit’s Academic program is individually tailored to help students with or without learning and attentional issues to learn ways to be more successful in an academic setting. We educate to the whole student and help them to learn tools to navigate and advocate for themselves in school. We use a blended learning approach which 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 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 transition.