Welcome to the Wilderness School

The Wilderness School, 240 North Hollow Road, East Hartland, CT 06027, 860-653-8059 or 800-273-2293;  E-mail:  Wildernessjourney@ct.gov Wilderness School Logo

The Wilderness School is a prevention, intervention, and transition program for adolescents from Connecticut.  The program is supported by the State Department of Children and Families (DCF) in addition to a tuition fee program utilizing a significant private funding base.

The Wilderness School offers high impact wilderness programs intended to foster positive youth development.  Designed as a journey experience, our program is based upon the philosophies of experiential learning and is considered therapeutic for the participant. Studies have documented the Wilderness School's impact upon the self esteem, increased locus of control (personal responsibility), and interpersonal skill enhancement of adolescents attending the program.

About the Wilderness School
About the Staff
Enrollment Forms
Expeditions
Policies (Enrollment, Behavioral and Tuition)
Summer Calendar
Summer Employment

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About the Wilderness School

Boat on a river imageThe Wilderness School is a program of the State of Connecticut, Department of Children and Families and was established in 1974

The Wilderness School is a prevention, intervention and transition program for adolescents from Connecticut.  Designed as a journey experience, our program is based upon the philosophies of experiential learning and is considered therapeutic for the participant.  Studies have documented the Wilderness School’s impact upon the self-esteem, increased locus of control (personal responsibility) and interpersonal skill enhancement of adolescents attending the program.

The Wilderness School base camp is located in East Hartland, Connecticut in the north-central part of the state.  The expedition course area follows the Appalachian Trail corridor of the Taconic and Berkshire Mountain ranges of Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as the adjoining areas of the Housatonic River Valley. 

The Wilderness School is open year round and offers a variety of programs from 1-day to 20-days in length. 

The Wilderness School is licensed as a Youth Camp by the State of Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, Youth Camp Licensing and the Department of Public Health.

The Wilderness School adapted the models of the American Outward Bound Schools and the general framework of social group work practice for the design of the wilderness experience. The design consists of a combination of these and other methodologies and is designed to teach self-reliance and responsibility as well as to improve self-esteem. Evaluations have demonstrated that program graduates show improved self-concept and social functioning, and are less likely to break the law or be involved with drugs or alcohol.

Several different program types are offered and comprise a continuum of services offered to our students.

In the summer, students attend 5-Day and 20-Day Expeditions in groups of ten with two or three Instructors and with the support of base camp staff.   Each Expedition student must pass through an Enrollment and Orientation phase of the Wilderness School prior to attending.

Expedition students are required to set goals for their experiences with the program and for their lives in the community once they have finished their courses.  The Wilderness School also conducts numerous Short Courses, from 1-3 days in length, year round for groups seeking adventure education services. Welcome to the Wilderness School Image

These Short Courses may be Wilderness Challenge activities such as rock climbing, ropes course, canoeing or cross country skiing, or group initiative courses designed for specific groups and programs.

All 20-Day and 5-Day Expedition Program students are also eligible to participate in a fall through spring Follow-Up Program. Those attending 1-day Short Courses may elect to apply for 20-day or 5-day Expeditions.  All Expedition students are eligible to participate in a fall through spring Follow-Up Program which is specifically designed to support youth in their continued growth and development. 

The Wilderness School student population is diverse and representative of varied backgrounds. A central element of the Wilderness School is the cooperative involvement of the family, Referring Agency and Wilderness School staff. 

Philosophy and Methodology:

  • Small Group Process: Wilderness School groups are largely responsible for the outcome of the course. Through discussion and experience, the group learns teamwork, problem solving, and decision-making. The group is expected to advocate positive values such as respect and compassion, and to develop an ability to perform with increasing self-direction.
  • Processing of Experience: Course experiences are discussed and processed by the individual and the group for the course’s impact to be made relevant. On wilderness courses, a major emphasis is placed on briefing and debriefing each day and activity, and on relating these subjects to meaningful examples from the student’s life.
  • Graduated Challenges: The course consists of a series of graduated, achievable challenges intended to establish a pattern of success. These require continually increasing effort and produce related feelings of accomplishment.
  • Use of Natural Consequences: The natural consequences of one’s actions or inactions are used to a safe and reasonable degree. The simplified environment of the course dispenses immediate, impartial consequences that may be utilized as learning experiences for students.
  • Experiential Learning: Learning by doing is emphasized in skills instruction. Group members are active participants in lessons and are given the responsibility to learn the skills necessary for the successful completion of the course.
  • Twenty-Four Hour Programming: Programming twenty-four hours per day provides an intensive experience resulting in an eventual confrontation with one’s limits. This experience produces opportunities for students and the group to expand limits and gain positive self-awareness.

 

 

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About the Staff

Director:  Aaron Wiebe, M.Ed., aaron.wiebe@ct.gov

Field Program Supervisors:

Scott Basile, scott.basile@ct.gov (Expeditions)

Bonnie Sterpka,  bonnie.sterpka@ct.gov (Enrollment)

Kimberly Thorne-Kaunelis, kim.thorne-kaunelis@ct.gov (Outreach)

 

The Wilderness School staff is committed to the belief that all students have the inherent ability to succeed and that the group process is a key element in a youth's growth and change.  The staff is rooted in adolescent development and proficient in group work.  Rapport building and behavior intervention skills are integral to our staff teams. 

 

Our staff have extensive training and personal experience in wilderness skills, including white water paddling, rock climbing, caving, winter programming, ropes course management, and wilderness expedition travel. 

 Staff and Student Image

Each full-time program staff also has had extensive training and personal experience in wilderness skills, including white water paddling, rock climbing, caving, winter programming, ropes course management, and wilderness expedition travel.  Staff members are certified with a minimum of Wilderness First Aid and professional C.P.R., with staff at Instructor level and above certified as Wilderness First Responder or Wilderness Advanced First Aid. 


Staff backgrounds range from Outward Bound, National Outdoor Leadership School, Wilderness Education Association and alternative programs for youth to experience in social work and education.

The staff is proficient in group work and individual counseling for adolescents. Other areas of expertise include substance abuse prevention, conflict resolution, and adolescent development.

The Wilderness School hires seasonal staff members who frequently work throughout the year as professional outdoor leaders, while others are youth workers, teachers, or college students studying social work or experiential education.  They are often recognized for their technical skills, outdoor safety judgment, athletic ability, enthusiasm, and concern for youth.

Seasonal instructors and base camp staff bring an added variety of backgrounds from across the country to the summer program.  Seasonal staff members frequently work throughout the year as professional outdoor leaders, while others are youth workers, teachers, or college students studying social work or experiential education. They are often recognized for their technical skills, outdoor safety judgment, athletic ability, enthusiasm, and concern for youth.

 

 

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Expeditions

Questions Concerning Expeditions?  Please contact:

Enrollment Coordinator
Bonnie Sterpka, M.S.
860-653-8059 X3
bonnie.sterpka@ct.gov

 

 

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Enrollment Forms

 

Application Materials for Parent/Guardian to complete:

Medical Forms:

  • SDE-HAR3 (State of CT-Department of Education, Health Assessment Record.  NOTE:  This form is not "fillable" and SDE would like it printed on blue paper. )
  • DCF-2303 (Non-Prescription Medication Authorization - OTC) – to be completed by Pediatrician for any non-prescription medication (ibuprofen, Tylenol, vitamins, other) that the applicant may need during the expedition.
  • DCF-2304 (Prescription Medication Authorization - PEDIATRIC)– to be completed by Pediatrician for any prescribed medication that the youth will need.
  • DCF-2305 (Prescription Medication Authorization - PSYCHIATRIC) – to be completed by Psychiatrist/prescriber for any Psychotropic medication that the youth will need.

Application Materials for Referring Agent to complete:

  • DCF-2301 (Referring Agency Pre-Enrollment Interview Form)
  • DCF-2302 (Student Contract – to be completed by Referring Agent, youth and parent)

Other Helpful Information:

Questions concerning forms?  Please contact:

Enrollment Coordinator
Bonnie Sterpka, M.S.
860-653-8059 X3
bonnie.sterpka@ct.gov