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Schools & Program Visits - Apr, 1998 Issue #51

Trenton, Alabama 205-776-2503
Visit Report by: Becky Austin, Jan 1997

(Becky works as a wilderness guide for Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Expeditions) 

Three Springs of Alabama is a rustic therapeutic boarding school for troubled adolescents about an hour from Huntsville. It was founded in 1985 and the average length of stay is 6 months to a year. At full capacity, the program has 72 boys and 48 girls, ages 9 to 17. It is split into two campuses; one for girls and the other for boys. I visited in January 1997, (which qualifies me for some Grand Procrastinator Award, no?) and it was cool but pleasant. All the students stay in cabins now (they have spent a number of years up-grading from canvas wall tents). It has a bit of a summer camp feel which is enhanced by the Native American names and symbols they use for their group membership. My impression was that the students seemed to be a more stable version of Catherine Freer kids. A “typical client” at Three Springs seemed to struggle with ODD, Adjustment Disorders, ADHD, addictions, and may have a history of trauma/abuse/neglect. 

Students progress from new person to group member towards group leader. As they shift into new roles in the group they earn more privileges and freedoms. I was impressed with the amount of structure and the “loosening of the reins,” as it were, as the students prove their trustworthiness. The girls campus has horses, the boys a pool. There are some all school functions, but the campuses have separate schools and run mostly independently. 

I was shown around each campus by a responsible and polite student, both of whom where near the end of their stays. Both were southern and the “Yes, Ma’am” got a bit much after the initial ten minutes. The school attracts students from all over the country. I was impressed with the one school teacher I met and got a clear sense that the program is designed to be flexible enough to tailor itself to each student’s needs. I unfortunately did not meet any counselors or social workers. I learned that each student is assigned a social worker and that they call home weekly and also have weekend long family visits which seemed very organized. 

What stood out to me was the rustic and campy feel of the place. I imagine the care is good and the students I met seemed happy. The program may be a good aftercare choice for a child coming out of a therapeutic wilderness program or someone who needs a bit more of a “reality check.”

The one family I’ve worked with that sent their child to Three Springs after a Freer trek was from the south. I like for parents and programs to be regionally matched if possible. 

Copyright © 1998, 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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