By Holly Hunter | August 17, 2010
Tucked away in the rolling hills of central Virginia is The Discovery School of Virginia. I recently visited this therapeutic boarding school and talked over lunch with Chris Yates about their program.
The Discovery School affords opportunity for teen age boys and girls who are experiencing emotional complexities and behavioral problems to obtain therapy for their issues while the working on their academics. Discovery has developed an independent study center which allows students who have learning difficulties to be able to excel.
I was given a guided tour of each campus, the boys and the girls, by two of the students in residence. My first tour was given by young man who said he had been at Discovery for more than eight months. As we walked on the trails through the woods he explained their daily routine at Discovery. The walk was long from the school house to the cabins, but even in the sweltering heat of the summer the trees shaded the trails and made the walk pleasant. As we conversed about their routine – individual responsibility to keep their cabins neat and clean, keep clothes washed, folded and put away from the elements so they stay dry – he shared an interesting story with me about some parents he recently toured who were looking at the school for their son. He said after the tour was completed the mom looked at him and said she just didn’t think it will work for her son because he is not made to attend class; she explained that presently he was truant and needed to be forced into studying. A big smile came over the young man’s face as he recounted what he told the mom: after thirty or more days of sweeping the campsite, picking up sticks and limbs on the trails cleaning cobwebs and making sure everything stays neat everyday, all day he will want to go to school. Absolutely.
One of the first things I saw was a tent that was being rebuilt. The young lady told me that the roof was beginning to leak so it was time to replace the tent. When I asked why not just replace the roof, she told me that most of the cabins and tents only last about 2 -2½ years because the timbers begin to rot. So since the roof needed to be fixed, it was time to simply build new from the ground up. As we continued my tour I noticed this young lady had incurred some sunburn. When I asked her about it she indicated that she was on a canoe trip and didn’t use the sunscreen as she should have. She accepted full responsibility for the decision not to apply the lotion properly and went on to say that had this happened the previous summer she would have blamed everyone else for what happened to her. Discovery, she told me, has taught her to accept responsibility for all of her decisions regardless of what they are. Good decisions she added are easy to take credit for, but dumb decisions, not so much. What a great thing to hear.
I think the best part of the tour at Discovery was seeing the progress of the students. Transporting at-risk adolescents I see these students at what is quite possibly their worst. To see and talk with students who have been at their worst, are now in a structured environment openly accept responsibility for their decisions and actions; who are talking candidly about their future in a positive way is so exciting. After all this is what its all about.