DCF: Short Courses and More

Wilderness School
Part Four:   Short Course Programs

For DCF Youth and Other Youth With Special Needs

{Youth climbing rock face}

Rock climbing challenges the individual's physical and emotional limits as well
as in learning to place trust in others.

Program Model

The Wilderness School offers several programs consisting of year round Short Courses for agencies and facilities throughout Connecticut.  The focus of these programs is to support collaborative partnerships among both state and community organizations, as well as between youth serving adults and the broad spectrum of youth being served.

These programs are sequenced from initial experiences promoting communication and trust to more challenging experiences as greater time and comfort is established in the Wilderness School setting.

Collaborative Partnership Short Courses are intended to assist participants learn decision-making, problem-solving, and other interpersonal skills, as well as to focus on increasing self-esteem and personal responsibility.   They are experiential and emphasize the rewards of youth and adults having successful experiences together.

As with Expeditions, programs are strengths based and oriented towards establishing productive alliances between youth and adults.

Participants from DCF Prevention, Juvenile Services, and Adolescent Services as well as  Wilderness School  Outreach Programs each follow a similar series of Short Courses that also may lead to greater involvement with the Expedition and Follow-Up programs.

  {Crew picture during winter}
  {1-Day Short courses -- youth using parachute in activity}
{Wilderness School student and parent sitting together during ropes course activity}  


The types of activities include:

  1. One-Day Team Building Courses:
    Programs are encouraged to enroll groups of youth in 1-Day Short Course experiences at the Wilderness School base camp.   These courses are designed for the specific needs of participating groups, and can be utilized at various stages of a groupís development.  Activities include problem-solving initiatives, team-building activities, and group challenges.   Opportunities to develop leadership skills, strengthen group cohesiveness, and practice decision-making skills are presented and discussed throughout the day.
  2. Student/Agent Days
    Adolescents and adults are enrolled together in pairs and join others spending a day outdoors participating in problem-solving initiatives, new games, and group challenges.  This course gives workers and youth the opportunity to strengthen relationships and develop communication skills.   Activities and initiative problems foster trust, cooperation, and teamwork.
  3. One-Day Wilderness Challenge Courses
    Wilderness School offers 1-Day Wilderness Challenge courses featuring special activities such as canoeing, rock climbing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, tracking and the high ropes course.  Participants engage in challenging activities together and have opportunities to experience goal setting and interpersonal skill enhancement.  Experiences also focus upon gaining self-confidence, trust, and personal responsibility.
  4. Three-Day Expeditions
    Youth may participate in an intensive backcountry Short Course based on agency request.  This experience is an entry level overnight program intended for participants needing to become accustomed to the remote Wilderness School setting and approach.  This experience consists of a three-day backpacking expedition as well as group and individual camping tasks providing opportunities for leadership, cooperation skills, and personal responsibility to emerge.  The final day of the course may be devoted to a special activity such as the ropes course, a solo experience or a special group challenge.
  5. Outreach Programs For Youth With Special Needs/Autism Spectrum Disorder Youth
    Wilderness School Outreach Programs may be designed to increase access to program services for youth in need of extra support as well as other youth not yet appropriate for more intensive Wilderness School activities.  In particular, Autism Spectrum Disorder youth that meet requirements may participate in Wilderness School activities via summer camp experiences conducted jointly with the Wilderness School by a community agency specializing in these services.

Specially designed Outreach programs may also include residents of DCF facilities and other youth in more restrictive, out of home settings with special requirements for participation.

Programs vary in duration and skills or abilities required, and are designed to provide an entry level experience with the Wilderness School.

Activities range from evening campfires to full day programs specially designed for group development.  Participants may progress from Outreach Program activities to Wilderness Challenge Short Courses as well as Expeditions.


{Program students on grounds of Wilderness School}     {Student sitting in icy hollow during winter climb of mountain}     {Students and referring agency staff atop Bear Mountain}  

{Student walking across balance beam with spotters during low ropes course activity.}

Program Descriptions and Short Course Contacts at the Wilderness School:

1.  DCF Prevention Courses for Family With Service Needs (FWSN) and Juvenile Diversion Programs

Who To Contact:  Wilderness School Enrollment Coordinator
E mail: bonnie.sterpka@ct.gov or phone (860) 653-8059 or (800) 273-2293.

Youth ages 13 and older who are involved with DCF Prevention Services may attend 1-Day Short Courses designed to expose participants to different experiences, foster interpersonal skill enhancement and problem solving, and provide opportunities for growth in self esteem and peer acceptance.  Eligible youth may include those participating in FWSN or Juvenile Diversion Programs, and may include non-commited youth referred to community juvenile review boards and DCF youth in Juvenile Detention Centers.

Wilderness School  Prevention Short Courses target adolescents prior to commitment who may attend the program with a Social Worker, Probation Officer or family member.  Prevention Services youth may also advance to specific Wilderness Challenge activities for adolescents seeking a more intensive experience.  In addition, FWSN committed youth may also attend the Wilderness School in groups of like peers, family members, and professionals assigned to work with them.  In particular, summer Family Connections Short Courses are intended to provide opportinitues for FWSN families to experience successful adventure activities together.  Further Wilderness School involvement for FWSN families may also occur at other times of the year. 

Wilderness School  Prevention Services Short Courses thus present several options for the DCF Prevention Services Social Worker, CSSD Probation Officer or family member for referral.  The first choices are Short Courses focusing upon becoming oriented to the Wilderness School program and environment. These initial Short Courses involve successful problem solving experiences and group achievements, as well as key elements of the Wilderness School such as the group process and developing positive alliances with adults.  Activities may include team building days as well as hiking, animal tracking, flat water canoeing, or snow shoeing.

The second set of options involve Wilderness Challenge activities such as rock climbing and high ropes courses, as well as more challenging day hikes, cross country skiing and white water canoeing.  The focus of these experiences would include increasing self esteem and interpersonal skills such as communication, leadership, and decision-making.  A key emphasis is made upon developing individual strengths and contributing to the team effort -- these focal points are made necessary by needing to work together to achieve group goals.

While the more intensive Wilderness Challenge experiences for Prevention Services youth offer the ideal progression to the Expedition and Follow-Up programs, appropriate adolescents with less Wilderness School experience may also consider exploring how to become involved in other program offerings.


2.  Positive Youth Development Initiative (PYDI) Programs

Who To Contact:  Wilderness School Outreach Coordinator.

Email: kim.thorne-kaunelis@ct.gov or phone (860) 653-8059 or (800) 273-2293

The goals of the Positive Youth Development Programs are to reduce youth risk factors and negative behaviors while increasing protective factors and youth skills.   Wilderness School provides opportunities for growth through 1-Day Short Courses and team building experiences.

Courses expose youth to different experiences, help with skill building and problem solving, and provide opportunities for growth in self esteem and peer acceptance.  Participants are not involved with DCF and programs are goal specific depending on the needs of the outside providers and community agencies.

3.  Wilderness School DCF Adolescent Services

Who To Contact:  Wilderness School Enrollment Coordinator
Email: bonnie.sterpka@ct.gov or phone (860) 653-8059 or (800) 273-2293.

The Wilderness School provides year round Short Courses for DCF adolescents fourteen years and older.  These courses foster trust, cooperation, teamwork, and group cohesiveness, and are open to youth participating in many levels of DCF services, including PASS group homes, Community Life Skills programs, Mentoring programs, the Youth Advisory Board, DCF facilities, etc.

Older adolescents may participate in programs ranging from 1 and 2-Day experiences to 5-Day Expeditions with other like aged youth (these programs are titled Transitions Programs on the program calendar).  Courses for these DCF adolescents may be designed to address issues relevant to the concerns of older youth in the care of DCF, such as transitioning to supervised apartment settings or college.

DCF adolescents also may be paired together with Area Office Social Workers, or as student-only groups from Area Offices, in order to spend a day outdoors participating in problem-solving initiatives, new games, and group challenges.  These courses gives workers and youth the opportunity to strengthen relationships and develop communication skills.

Please note:  An expanded schedule of Team Building as well as Wilderness Challenge Short Courses is made available during summer months.  Opportunities for scheduling summer Short Courses are made each spring.

{Wintertime activity -- students cross country ski up a wide meadow on a summy day}

4.  Juvenile Justice Programs for Parole Youth

Who To Contact:  Wilderness School Outreach Coordinator.
Email: kim.thorne-kaunelis@ct.gov or phone (860) 653-8059 or (800) 273-2293

Wilderness School/Parole Collaborative Program:  The Wilderness School offers an annual progression of Short Courses for youth involved with the DCF Juvenile Services, including youth committed to the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) or in placement under the supervision of DCF Parole Services.  This is a collaborative program between the DCF Bureaus of Prevention and Juvenile Services, and is designed to work in support of the efforts made by CJTS on behalf of the residents of that facility. This experience is intended to focus upon individual and group achievements, personal responsibility and self-esteem.

The Wilderness School/Juvenile Services Collaborative Program consists of 1-Day Short Courses occurring throughout the year, including poor weather, winter and other stressful situations.  Programs are based upon Wilderness Challenge activities such as hiking, rock climbing, high ropes courses, and cross-country skiing.  Yyouth participate alongside of adults in small groups with Wilderness School Instructors. In this model, youth participants have the opportunity to develop trust and personal skills involved with accepting adult supervision while cooperatively working with staff and peers.

Youth are also presented with activities and situations in which they may learn to identify and meet personal needs appropriately.   The team building aspects of this program foster the development of healthy communication within the student peer group and promotes the  development of mutual respect among both staff and students.  The Wilderness School/Juvenile Services Collaborative Program  may culminate with a 3-Day Expedition in late summer featuring a challenging backpacking program in mountain terrain.

The target population of this collaborative partnership are juvenile justice youth who are having success within the CJTS or residential program setting, and who demonstrate a readiness for the less-restrictive environment offered by the Wilderness School.  Recruitment and screening occur with DCF Parole, appropriate clinical staff and residential staff, and at the discretion of the Wilderness School.


On successful conclusion of this series of Short Courses, participants may then be referred to Wilderness School's Expedition and Follow-Up programs.

5.  Programs for Youth with Special Needs (Autism Spectrum Disorder)

Who To Contact:  Wilderness School Outreach Coordinator
Email: kim.thorne-kaunelis@ct.gov or phone (860) 653-8059 or (800) 273-2293

Wilderness School/FOCUS Youth Alternatives Collaborative Program:  This program is a collaborative partnership designed to offer personal growth opportunities for Autism Spectrum Disorder youth.  Using an experiential approach, these programs offer a highly flexible series of activities designed with an awareness of unique individual abilities and differences, and with the intent of increasing individual self esteem.

In the summer, participants enrolled in the FOCUS day camp may also attend a 1-day session at the Wilderness School each week.  This structure allows participants to experience adventure programming and play activities in a new and different environment.  

In addition, DCF Autism Spectrum Disorder youth in out of home care may participate in modified Short Courses that continue to support goals of group cooperation and mentoring.  Wilderness Challenge activities such as the high ropes course, hiking, cross country skiing, and canoeing may be experienced in a challenging yet supportive environment.

The Wilderness School setting also presents Autism Spectrum Disorder youth with the dual challenges of the natural environment and a highly interactive process with peers and adults staffing their programs.  As a result, participants experience opportunities for social development, personal independence, and positive peer relations.

With the support of both Wilderness School and FOCUS staff, participants are engaged in learning new methods of negotiating personal needs within the group milieu.  They may also have the chance to work on strengthening their abilities to navigate anxiety producing experiences and to develop strategies for approaching friendships and peer relations.

Prospective outcomes of these Wilderness School/FOCUS collaborations include increased satisfaction in social settings for participants, as well as increased skills in managing daily routines and self awareness.

Both DCF committed youth as well as youth not involved with DCF may participate in program activities via a fee for service facilitated by the Wilderness School and FOCUS.  

{Silouette of course participant near scenic lake}

NEXT Scheduling and Preparing for a 1-Day Course With the Wilderness School


Content Last Modified on 8/17/2011 12:34:37 PM