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Schools & Program Visits - Aug, 1998 Issue #53

Trenton, Alabama
Shannon Kilpatrick, Director of Admissions
Lon’s Visit: June 26, 1998 

Visiting this program is like visiting two schools. With 500 acres of property, they have the girls program on one side, and the boys program on the other side, with no mixing between the two. 

I started with a tour of the girls’ side with two student guides. Being a student guide at Three Springs is a real treat and privilege by being a break from their usual routine, and an important responsibility the students can earn. Presenting the program to professionals with no staff present requires an ability to avoid the temptation of trying to manipulate the visitor, something the girls admitted they would have done in a hot second when they first enrolled. The girls were open and honest about how they had come to be enrolled there, and were articulate about what the school is doing and what each was getting out of it. 

It also was cute watching them trying to make the tour last as long as they could. Alabama was in the beginnings of the heat wave of 1998, which gripped the Southeast part of the country for much of the summer. I’m sure they considered it much more pleasant to do a leisurely stroll with a visitor, followed by iced tea in the air-conditioned kitchen, than by following their regular school and program schedule. 

We started with a leisurely stroll to the newly built chapel. The school encourages the students interested in spiritual and religious growth, and my guides obviously were enthusiastic about the experiences and fun times they had helping build and use the chapel. 

From there, we toured the ropes course on the edge of the property. (Walking up there had the added advantage of the girls getting a peek at the boys working in the field we walked past, an aspect not mentioned of course). It was a typical ropes course, which through various games and challenges is used to structure experiences so the students can test their reactions both physically and emotionally, and then by debriefing the experience, learn and grow from the increased self-knowledge. Both girls had numerous examples of understandings they had gained from participating in the ropes course activities. 

The next stop was the equine program. The school has developed a sophisticated program with horses under the philosophy that children almost universally respond to animals. In addition, since horses are very social animals, their interaction with the students are considered very therapeutic, especially in helping students learn healthy relationships. The girls of course had to introduce me to their favorite horses. 

The last stop was the air-conditioned kitchen, where students take about three-fourths of their meals, the rest of the meals being cooked at the campsites out away from the main buildings. The girls worked hard explaining everything about the school they could think of, over glasses of iced tea. When they ran out of things to talk about, we terminated the tour and I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. 

The afternoon was spent at the boys’ side of the campus. The boy that was my tour guide was as articulate about his issues as the previous guides and took me to one of the campsites, as well as on a tour of their relatively new and well used gymnasium. 

The camp sites are really semi-permanent wooden dorms for sleeping (in the past Three Springs used less permanent teepees and tents more often), with a campfire pit, wood burning stove and utensils for cooking using wood. About half of each student’s program is centered on the campsite for both the boys and the girls, and includes meals, group discussions and award ceremonies for each student when that student accomplishes an important goal or one of the six stages. The rest of the program centers on the main administrative buildings for that side of the total campus, and includes some of their meals, academic classes and sports. 

It usually takes from 12-15 months for a student to complete the program and go through the six stages. After the first stage, which is essentially an orientation period, each stage uses Native American symbols for the goals of that stage. The animals, colors, and meaning of each stage have no mystical or religious meanings, but are similar “to the ranks and merit badges of the Boy/Girl Scouts.” These symbols are used as tools to help the students learn the areas of life in which each student must develop to become mature adults. The student will symbolically journey around the “Medicine Wheel”, exploring what three Springs sees as the four aspects of human nature: Mental, Emotional, Spiritual and Physical. 

Three Springs is licensed as a treatment center, and can work with students with some fairly serious diagnoses, but so far as the student is concerned, their environment is open fields, wooded hills, and a natural environment. Three Springs is a far cry from a locked ward, which for some of these students might have been their only other option. 

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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