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News & Views - Oct, 1994 Issue #30 

by: Ranel Hanson
Sandpoint, Idaho

(Ranel Hanson was the Director of Admissions for Rocky Mountain Academy for six years, and recently joined SUWS as Director of Enrollment Services. Her job is to work with referring professionals as well as to oversee the SUWS Admissions department.) 

SUWS is the oldest (continuing since 1981) and most respected of the adolescent outdoor-based programs. Located in the high desert of southern Idaho, the SUWS base facility operates year- round in a four season wilderness environment. While enrolled in the twenty one day SUWS experience, children may hike in a area of several hundred acres, and the program has available to it several miles of territory. 

SUWS groups form weekly (no more than seven coed students, aged 13-18) and students find themselves almost immediately in the field. The instructors who meet children at the airport will stay with them throughout the 21-day experience. 

And it IS an experience. Adolescents who hours before were struggling to maintain control within their families, in their schools and among their peers now find themselves without control. They are disoriented, apprehensive and dependent. This is all part of the plan. SUWS knows that personal growth occurs through struggle and challenge. 

One of the first things SUWS does is to help each child to understand the difference between his/her Wants and Needs. SUWS gives them everything they need, but almost nothing they want. And, in this environment they can't manipulate for what they want. Within a few days, they not only begin to differentiate their wants from their needs, but to realize that they haven't been paying enough attention to meeting those needs. 

Helping children through this process of finding out what is really most important and learning how to be powerful enough (in a healthy way) to meet those needs, is what SUWS does better than any other program. To accomplish this, SUWS uses a Search and Rescue metaphor. Living this metaphor throughout the expedition facilitates the process which each student must go through when searching for their true self, finding that self, and learning how to stay true to this self- discovery after they leave the program. 

In the final phase of the three week program, students form a Search and Rescue team. The group is actually "on call" with local authorities. Responsibilities are divided by the group and they practice how to react to a real emergency. Sometimes, there is a real emergency; and sometimes instructors must manufacture one - however it happens, children are not informed about which is which. This phase allows students to put into practice the skills they have worked so hard to master in a way which makes a significant and real contribution. We know that children need and want to contribute to a larger cause - the Search and Rescue portion of the program is the vehicle by which this is accomplished. Before the expedition is over, each student will have learned how to function as a strong contributing member of an outdoor Search and Rescue Team. The training includes First Aid, CPR and how to respond to emergency situations as a team. But the formal training is of secondary importance. 

"When I saved Sally I was feeling excitement, pressure, a good feeling in my heart and my whole body. She made me feel needed and I made her feel safe and secure. Many times I heard her worrying, and then I heard myself comforting her and making her bad feelings leave her. I think that the group worked to communicate. I put myself in second and third positions a lot during the rescue. I've never had a feeling of accomplishment, inner-peace or self-worth this strong. I feel that I worked as hard as I could to make her comfortable and help her injury. These feelings are ones I'm never going to forget. Tomorrow I'm going home. I'm so happy! I seriously think SUWS can change ANYONE. I love this place. I'm going to miss it." - student journal, Search and Rescue Experience. 

Each seven person student group has two field instructors assigned to the group for the entire 21 days. A senior field supervisor, who is among the most experienced and highly trained instructors, will visit the field often to interact with students and to monitor the progress of the group. The group's progress is the responsibility of the field supervisor and it is also his/her task to communicate with parents and with the referring professional. We see this as a tremendous advantage because we know that parents and professionals need to speak with people who are actually working with the child. Much can be seen in the tone of a voice or the expression of a young face. 

On the surface, many outdoor programs may sound similar, but what happens for students at SUWS is phenomenal. You are invited to ask us to arrange a personal visit for you to the program so that you can evaluate for yourself the value of the SUWS experience. We know that this is the best way for you to understand more fully and to describe the SUWS experience to parents. We are eager to arrange your visit and we would welcome the chance to show you the RESULTS of a SUWS experience. 

You may reach Brian Church (Director of Admissions) and the SUWS Admissions Department at our new location in Huntington Beach, California at 714-895-0923. 

Copyright 1994, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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