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We believe there is something almost magical about life on a farm. (Lessons like you reap what you sow and animal care comes before taking care of your own needs.) We believe that the daily chores, the physical effort, the animals - all have a way of making teens think about life, about relationships and about priorities. Students at Ironwood School find the 500-acre farm and school setting an environment that actually liberates them from the self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors of the past.
At the beginning many students find having to get up early to take care of the animals as not very exciting. But given a few weeks, something happens. There comes a certain satisfaction from having to care for animals that they now have a relationship with. Teens feel like they have taken a step back in time, not just about when life seemed easier, but a time when the negative influences didn't exist. The magic of the farm seems to make it okay - okay to want to change and okay to seek the courage to face difficult issues so teens can change.
It's All About Building Relationships
Ironwood Residential Therapeutic School was purposely designed to operate in this kind of atmosphere where activities and intensive therapy center on cooperative work projects and relationship building. The mid-coast Maine countryside and culture support the learning environment, and the natural setting facilitates introspection, value clarification, and hard work that are easily applied to academics and learning new life skills.
Residing at Ironwood Residential Therapeutic School, adjacent to the scenic Frye Mountain Wildlife Management area, allows a teen freedom from distractions to reflect about where he or she wants their life to go and how they can get on track to making their dreams a reality. The simplicity and serenity of the farm provides teens with the opportunity to rediscover core values and develop skills to cope with living in a new environment away from family and negative peer group influences. The back-to-basics farm environment helps teens develop a relationship with the natural world and learn how to get along with others. The remote natural woodland setting also helps struggling teens evaluate the results of their choices and encourages them to develop improved strategies and problem-solving skills.
A Safe Environment, Free of Distractions to Heal the Soul
Ironwood school is a rural farm nestled in the densely wooded mid-coastal region of Maine, situated near 500 acres of private fields and woodlands, surrounded by an extensive wildlife management area and game preserve. This combination of maintained and wild spaces beautifully supports the students' exploration of nature through shared work and simple living. Guided by experienced and skilled staff, Ironwood offers a safe environment in which struggling teenagers are guided in the transition to a healthy, responsible lifestyle.
Ironwood teens progress at their own rate in academics, life skills and participating in new cultural and enrichment experiences as they work through their behavioral, emotional and academic issues within a safe and supportive environment where they are constantly motivated to attain their highest potential. Skilled therapists and staff enable students to acquire tools that lead to a life of healthy relationships and teach teens to experience satisfaction from a simple life without "modern conveniences" where teens can practice making positive choices and develop a healthy work ethic while discovering the joy and rewards of a job well done.
Students learn how to cook meals, bake, construct a carpentry project, create paper-mache masks, ride a horse in a trail ride, participate in a canoe trip or hiking adventure, plant and tend to vegetables in the garden, tap maple trees to make maple syrup, or sit out under the stars for a music jam.
The Simple Life – Sample Daily Schedule of an Ironwood Farm House Resident Teen
Ironwood teens are up by 6:00 a.m. for exercise and breakfast. Fitness is an integral facet of life at Ironwood. Week-day mornings begin with 30 minutes of exercise which include a combination of running, calisthenics, strength training and endurance exercises. In addition, teens also practice Tai-chi and Yoga through programs offered during the week. Exercise is followed by morning chores which includes feeding and caring for the horses and other animals, cleaning the stables, barn and farm buildings.
Monitored shared work is the foundation of the Ironwood program: Teens work cooperatively to maintain the gardens, buildings, stables, barn and grounds, strengthening their bodies and minds, and learning teamwork and how to get along with each other. At 9:00 a.m. traditional school begins followed by lunch at 12:00 p.m. Teens then gather for various enrichment and therapeutic programs.
Enrichment Programs Spark New Interests and Self-Discoveries
In the afternoon, a multitude of activities are offered such as equestrian lessons, dog training, art, music, cooking lessons, horticulture, hiking, life skills training, team-building exercises, one-on-one tutoring, individual or family therapy, equine-assisted psychotherapy, Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) group, substance abuse group, young women's group, nutrition group and visits from guest artists and musicians, or local dignitaries. Dinner preparation begins at 4:30 p.m., and after dinner teens participate in clean-up and evening farm house and barn chores.
In the evenings, students may choose how to spend their time: Perhaps throw a Frisbee for their favorite dog, participate in a game of Monopoly or play pool or ping pong. Quiet time begins at 8:00 p.m. as students take showers, read, write letters and journal, followed by bedtime at 9:00 p.m.
Preparing and Sharing Meals Are Important Part of Farm Life
Meal times are an important part of farm life at Ironwood. Here students and staff dine together as a family and eat made-from-scratch foods that teens prepare. Teens enjoy culinary demonstrations by well-known chefs, special events such as Outdoor Grilling, Sunday Pancakes, or Ethnic Night, where the group explores a different cultural heritage by choosing a region, studying its culture and geography, and planning and serving a full-course meal from that culture?complete with ethnic costumes, music, and decorations in the dining room.
Teens return home with a greater understanding of themselves, a positive change in attitude and a willingness to reunite with parents and family members. Ironwood is a life-changing experience that teens will remember the rest of their lives.
See more photos of the Farm House and grounds at our Facilities Tour.