Video: Ironwood Maine Sugar Shack

Ironwood Maine Sugar Shack

Every ounce of maple syrup we make goes on top of the pancakes of these amazing residents and staff who helped to make it.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

This week at Ironwood was similar to most weeks for anyone. It included feelings of accomplishment, exhaustion, and disappointment for each of our residents. I have the opportunity to observe a unique perspective of the happenings from just outside the daily routine and it is truly inspiring to see each of our residents and staff members owning and utilizing these feelings throughout the week.

The days after Family Weekend are filled with a variety of responses. Some students settle back into their daily routine with a sense of relief after being exhausted from non-stop stimulation and an ever-present desire to make the most of the weekend. Other students are disappointed to accept the fact that they still have quite a bit of work to do. Several students are re-energized by a sense of pride with being able to experience how significant their progress has been, and what a positive difference it makes within their family.

As with any weekend, there is a Monday to surely follow, and life at Ironwood continued on with a wealth of experiences, challenges, and learning opportunities. The daily routines are undeniably effective and important. School, community responsibilities, and therapeutic sessions are an obvious pick for most impactful activities for our students, but I believe the opportunities to engage in a variety of extra-curricular activities are equally as important to our students’ development. To name a few, this week included painting, making homemade dough for hand tossed pizza, tarp shelter construction, and yoga.

Indoor Rock Climbing - Adventure Therapy

Indoor Rock Climbing – Adventure Therapy

This week our students were also able to attend the campus of Unity College for an experience with their Adventure Therapy students on an indoor rock climbing wall. Sure, we had tons of fun, made a few jokes, engaged in some competition, and thoroughly enjoyed the time off campus, but there was something else too. Rock climbing can have more of a positive impact that you may think.

Eva-Maria Stelzer, a psychologist at the University of Arizona, had a feeling climbing was more than just fun. Her and a team led a study with participants with varying mental health challenges. Stelzer and her colleagues found the social, mental and physical endurance of climbing could be successful psychotherapy for improving mental health. The team has since expanded the study to compare the climbing activities with cognitive behavior therapy. Stelzer explained that climbing has a number of other important characteristics that make it especially beneficial for the treatment of mental health challenges, namely that it helps boost self-efficacy and social interactions.

As I mentioned earlier, our week was busy. The difference is in our student’s willingness and ability to engage in their experiences, own and validate their emotions, and put themselves in challenging situations. While it may be scary to look up at the mountain that our students have to climb, breathe easier knowing that all of us here at Ironwood have them,On Belay.”

Ironwood Maine Web Update

Our campus is a community in which teens can learn how to take care of themselves and contribute within a group. It is a safe place that students can learn to feel comfortable emotionally and physically. To me, Ironwood is an extension of the family by way of support through challenging growth, accountability, and an ability to be happy.

This is Family Weekend, a time in which families will re-connect on campus with intentions to bridge the gap of life at Ironwood to life at home. It is an opportunity for students to share first hand all of the projects they have been working on. It offers a structured environment for families to navigate challenges together. It creates a space to rekindle affection and understanding.

During this event, our students will perform a musical concert with a multi-instrumental band. They have spent months learning a variety of musical techniques, practicing songs, and preparing to put on a show. Families will also group up for a baking session in which students can prove just how comfortable they are in the kitchen! Students will also be able to take their family on a tour of the farms working sugar shack, where we have been harvesting and producing our very own maple syrup.

For our newer students, this weekend offers the additional perspective of motivation. There is nothing more contagious than positive excitement and feeling a sense of pride on campus. While spending the weekend exploring the mountain, practicing wilderness skills, and playing group games, each of them leave the weekend with a drive to progress through the program in order to be prepared to share during the next Family Weekend.

While our campus is bustling with activity at this moment due to the family weekend events, be rest assured that our “new comer’s” are being well taken care of. We are very proud of, and have great confidence in all our employees, particularly, those staff who spend this time with group of residents who are in their contemplative stages of their journey.

While Ironwood will never be home for our students, we are proud to be a part of the family…for now. Thank you for putting your trust in Ironwood.

Ironwood Maine Art Update

Pysanka, a Ukrainian decorated egg

Pysanka, a Ukrainian decorated egg

The end of December, we took a field trip to ‘The Farnsworth Museum’ in Rockland to see a show of Louise Nevelson’s assemblages. She was a Russian immigrant whose family made Rockland their home. She was the first artist to create marvelous ‘assemblages’ from all the ‘stuff’ she found on the streets of NY. Her art was not recognized until she was in her 60’s, but gained a huge amount of notoriety in her later years.

She was the inspiration for assemblages created by the students using primarily wood scrapes of various shapes and sizes. (mostly from my husband’s shop) Other found objects were incorporated. Imagined 3D sculptures, some standing, some wall mounted were the result of this exploration. Painted in black, white or gold, colors taken from Louise’s palette,
some proved to be compelling art pieces.

We have made ‘paste’ papers, an old way of decorating paper using water, flour, glycerin, and paint. It forms a custard like texture which is placed on wet paper and manipulated into fascinating patterns with common objects: combs, plastic knives, forks, spoons, paper clips….the possibilities are endless. We took these papers and chose an animal ‘totem’, an animal which best fit our character, and made large paintings, collaging certain areas with our paste papers. Really interesting results.

We have just finished a gold scratch art project inspired by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. He used gold in many of his elaborate and decorative paintings, primarily of women. A painting many people are familiar with is Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ a couple embracing wrapped in a magnificent quilt.
Students were able to chose any and all subject matter that inspired them, from faces, to animals, to landscapes and together with some aspect of a cut out magazine image, they ‘scratched’ out certain areas to create dramatic gold effects.

Every spring I introduce the students to the ancient ritual of the ‘Pysanka’, a Ukrainian decorated egg. This tradition was passed on to me from my Ukrainian mother and I now share it with many others. Designs are drawn on the egg with melted beeswax which flows through a tool called a ‘Kistka’. The eggs are then dipped in a series of dyes and the final pattern is revealed when the wax is removed.

It is a delight and kind of magical when the kids see their patterns at the end. Many smiles.

Happy Spring to All. It is a pleasure teaching these teens.

My Best,
Lesia Sochor

Press Release: Ironwood Maine Adds to Executive Team

Ironwood Maine, a licensed and New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accredited therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens in Maine’s mid-Coast area, has named Nikole Seeger as education director. As Ironwood Maine’s education director, Ms. Seeger will oversee the academic success of Ironwood Maine’s residents, maintain and further Ironwood Maine’s accreditation recommendations, and help residents transition to secondary schools and colleges.

Read the Full Release on PR Web

Ironwood Maine Op-Ed: Retail Outlets for Recreational Marijuana

I was recently asked by a close friend who works with youth in Duxbury, what I thought about the town bringing in retail outlets for recreational marijuana.  I’m sure she was surprised by how quickly I launched into my very strong opinion that nothing about this concept is good for Duxbury, or any other town.

My experience and perspective come from years of working with struggling teenagers.  As a psychotherapist and the Director of a residential therapeutic boarding school for teenagers, I can tell you that what I see today as significant mental health issues with teens, is far worse than even 3-5 years ago. Our current culture is creating a generation of isolated, depressed and anxious young men and women. Social media and gaming addiction is real and likely the original source of why these issues are so predominant in today’s teen world. However, the dual issue of substance abuse, especially with marijuana, is definitely adding insult to injury.

I talk to families from all over the country, in crisis, just about every day of my life.  The stories are similar.  The child that they once knew, usually within a year or two, has completely disengaged on every level, in some way: educationally, socially, physically and relationally. They are depressed and anxious. Evidence of self-harm or suicidal ideation usually co-exists, either with substance abuse (alcohol, marijuana and/or pills), cutting, and/or a pattern of habitual self-loathing has become a mindset.  Parents are typically the primary target of extreme disrespect, defiance and/or complete emotional cut-off and disconnection by their adolescent.  The household is “walking on eggshells”. I know I’m not the first person to say that there is an epidemic emerging.  Our families are struggling, internally, the system is breaking from within.

When I think about parents using recreational marijuana in front of their children or retail outlets emerging in small town America, essentially condoning its use, I know it will only makes things worse.  Teens already believe this drug is the great panacea of all things difficult in life, now their role models will be confirming it. The negative, long term effects of marijuana on the teenage brain are well documented.  It isn’t just about that, for me, it’s about communication and connection within the family, it’s about being awake and aware as a parent, and it’s about recognizing and preventing loneliness and isolation in our children.

The issues we see everyday in the media: mass school shootings, overdose victims and teen suicide all begin with a lonely, isolated, disconnected child. How can normalizing the use of a drug that disconnects people, further, possibly contribute to anything positive in our world?

Susan Horton, LMFT

Ironwood Maine

Ironwood Maine Web Update

April is on the doorstep. You can feel it. It’s a bit on the foggy side today, but not from some atmospheric occurrence, it is from what we call here in Maine – “melting snow.“ Yes, all the snow on the ground begins to simultaneously melt causing a charge of melting snow molecules to hit the air at the same time causing such density as to create fog. At least that’s the way it has been explained to me over the years. In any case…this campus, along with everyone in and around it is ready for spring.

Along with the rite of spring comes Easter. Holidays are very special here as staff does an absolutely outstanding job making these difficult moments away from home just a bit more palatable. And of course candy and treats make just about everything easier to take. There will be treats and a home style Easter meal with Ham and all the fixins. And the breakfasts on holidays are always a big hit with welcome doses of breakfast meats and eggs to the liking. The FH kids will head over to the Morrill Town Elementary School to plant eggs for the community Easter Egg Hunt.

This has been one of the strangest Maple Syrup seasons in recent memory with the deep cold holding on very late in the season with holding tanks and lines being froze tight for most days. However, we have managed a few boils and over 600 gallons of raw Sap has been collected and is ready for processing. There will be some tours and tastings for the Family Weekend…yummmmmm.

And I’m happy to report that our new Equestrian resident survived his initial reflection quite well and has actually been allowed in the group and has assumed a new identity. Yes, “Sunbeam”, has joined the IW family. I’m hearing he was named for his propensity to find whatever sunlight was coming in through windows or doors and placing his body in the direct rays. So, Sunbeam it is. And he awaits your introduction, next weekend.

The Farmhouse is experiencing a wonderful phenomenon right now with 7 residents at Level IV and a new Level III who came up this week from Frye to even out the group. When one looks at the IW journey and its culmination in a commencement of new life, it is only fitting that I write this, looking out at what will soon be new life surrounding our campus with hundreds upon hundreds of new flowers and abundant new growth. It is clearly incredible that we have so many residents blossoming into their respective life journeys at this time. You know, IW is just a season, just one season of a year, of many, many years in a life journey. And like the seasons there is the thread of newness and of hope, of a better day, after a winter or storm. Hope does spring eternal, especially when you’re surrounded with so many signs….Happy Easter to all.

Thanks for allowing your child to be part of our lives and we’ll see you soon.

Ironwood Maine Fitness Update

We are always busy at Ironwood and we try to make it a priority to do intentional workouts each morning. This works well, especially at the Farmhouse, which is great because it is the resident’s “second half” before graduating and going home where they will be accountable for their own fitness and exercise routines.

We start early, as exercising first thing has many benefits:
1. You are more likely to accomplish your goal of exercise if you do it first thing in the morning. If you schedule it for later in the day, life has a way of presenting things you have to do instead.
2. Not only does it wake you up, it helps keep your energy up throughout the day.
3. It gives you something that you have accomplished while some people are still in bed. It is great feeling of satisfaction to have met that goal so early and one that you will want to continue.
4. No one is demanding anything of you yet.
5. You start off your day by making a healthy decision, and healthy actions lead to more healthy actions.

Most of the exercises, especially at Frye, are back to basics; calisthenics, running, non-contact sports, hiking. While we do continually progress on strength and all around fitness fundamentals at FH, we do include a plethora of activities in the hopes that each resident graduates with a least one fitness activity that they will continue with on their own. We do this with experiential field trips, different sports and numerous variations of body weight movements. Some activities I have facilitated include Cornish Gig Pilot Rowing, hiking, ice skating, a Highland Games Inspired experiential, ballet jumps, workouts utilizing music, Handball, Soccer, Ultimate Frisbee, 5ks, lots of varying callisthenic circuits, trail running, Eugene(a dodge-ball/capture the flag/quidditch hybrid game I made up) and more to come.

It is my goal that every resident graduates with at least one activity that they enjoying doing and will continue to do on their own. We do a variety of things to help them find that activity, but still push fundamentals as well to give them a good foundation. I hope that they don’t see fitness as a chore, but as something that enriches their lives, as one of the many great tools they gain while at Ironwood.

Ironwood Maine Barn Update

New Ironwood Maine Horse: Sunbeam

New Ironwood Maine Horse: Sunbeam

Despite week-to-week Nor’easter storms this month, the sun shines brightly on Ironwood and the barns are abuzz with activity and excitement. At Frye Barn Nappy has been progressing nicely in harness training, with the boys’ group helping one week and the girls’ group the next. The boys had the first opportunity to learn the required parts of a driving sled and introduced Nappy to pulling it. His second such experience, he showed he fully understood by needing little guidance or encouragement from the resident “Header”, who walked next to him with a safety lead line attached. By the time his second driver knelt in the sled, reins in hand, he was eager to go. With Barn Manager approval, the trio trotted happily along the edge of the road, and Nappy even picked up a canter part of the way. What laughter and delight this brought to all present, residents and staff alike! By the next week when it was the girls’ turn, the roads were melted and the shorter trails through the paddock comprised the driving venue. This was harder for Nappy to navigate with the sled attached, as the shoveled paths were narrow and curved and the unshoveled areas were too deep for his short legs to manage-not to mention pulling a person! Still he was cheerful and willing.

​So just when we were tiring of snow, it has become a new treasure. The horses who are not harnessed (yet) show great interest, and Lacey, in particular, runs up and down the fenceline if we are on the road, or right beside the sled in the paddock. The students recognize she has great interest and look forward to when she can also be driven. In recent conversations of students about they have learned about and from horses, students often mention having learned that horses are healthier and happier when they have something -a job- to do. They apply this awareness of a visible work ethic in horses to their own experience and their reflection upon their progress.

​At the Farmhouse, residents have been engaged in finding a special horse who is a good fit for Ironwood. Two weeks ago, a group of residents went to a barn that deals in horses, as well as tack, trucks and trailers for them! They set criteria for an Ironwood horse on the ride there. It must be safe, have a personality of wanting to be with people, be healthy and already trained in at least one of the disciplines taught here, with the build to cross-train. There was considerable variety among students in other desirable traits- size of the horse, breed, color, etc.

​At the stable, they had the chance to meet many horses, and to help decide which ones we would try out. In that process, one resident was “adopted” by a very friendly barn cat, who would not let him put her down. The cat would follow him everywhere and cry out to him or reach up his leg if he set her down. The kids decided that getting along with cats and dogs was an additional standard our new horse would have to meet. We watched the horse dealers ride each of several horses in a very small indoor arena, and students learned to observe for evenness of gait, responsiveness, any stiffness or abruptness, or other indications a horse might have health or agility challenges or training that would better suit more expert riders.

​Then our own Barn Manager rode, and also behavior staff, Heidi, in turn, with the two horses who were “finalists.” It was a tough decision to pick one, as the two who made it this far were both sweet and had met the listed criteria. As a final lesson horse test” a volunteer resident rode each horse, with her IW instructor close by. This resident had never ridden western, and did so with a minimal orientation to neck reining, and instruction that rider “body talk” in the saddle is very similar across disciplines. She was well supported by her peers in taking this positive risk, and the result was a clear picture of the horse being a good fit for our program. The group then asked if I thought he would do well in EAP. Since there were no other horses in the ring, and he was staying right with the group, we decided to remove his bridle and give him an “assignment.” Three students asked him to do a task with them which involved going from place-to-place in the arena and checking out unusual objects. Then the other half of the group did a second task with him. We put the bridle back on, and the second horse was tried out in the same way. During the visit, both horses had the chance to be in the ring together and with additional horses present being tried out by other people. Such a hard choice! So many nice horses to meet.

​When the decision was made, we prepared to leave. The horse dealer mounted this gelding and rode him outside, so we would be confident he will be a good trail horse. He rode him along the road, in the parking area, and right through the tack store! Going in one door, which the rider opened from the horses’ back, through the shop, and out the other person door. Then he stood up on the saddle, set down the reins, hopped off, and scooted underneath the horses’ belly to his other side. All this time, there were people and vehicles coming and going, barn dogs hanging around, an employee in a wheelchair moving equipment around, and truck traffic on the road. We felt we had made a very good decision, and left with a sense of wonder and gratitude.
​The following week, a separate group of residents had the opportunity to go get our new horse. We made sure these students had a chance to observe horses being tried out in the arena, to note their soundness and dispositions, and their overall health and training. Then we visited the stable and pens where they saw many more available horses. As we entered the stall area, they stopped quickly, responding to a sweet horse in the very end stall. As he turned to pay them attention, someone asked, “Wait! Is this him? Is this ours?” He was blanketed and facing away from us when we entered, so I folded back the blanket, and showed them the “SB” brand on his rump which the earlier group had mentioned back at IW. It was a delightful first meeting! And everyone agreed he seemed like a good fit for our IW herd-near in size to Justin and Dancin’, and whimsical like Justin, and solidly built, with nice form. I quickly completed the business part with the dealer while other staff visited him with residents.

​When I returned, I handed the lead rope to a resident, and said, “Take him to the trailer.” She walked him directly onto the trailer without hesitation, and I showed her how to close him in. Upon arrival at IW, a second student was invited to unload him. As she stepped onto the trailer, with his lead rope, he began to back off on his own. She backed up with one hand on him, clipped his lead on as he stepped down, and introduced him to IW’s beautiful views and brisk wind as if she had done so all her life!

​Perhaps the most difficult part of integrating a new horse is the quarantine phase, where are horse has to be kept separate from others until all risk of contagious illness or parasites (which they could carry from traveling long distance closely with many other horses) is past. During his first week here, he developed a runny nose, which caused quarantine measures to be more rigid, though he was already being kept away from other horses. Yesterday, a small StarRiders class researched respiratory illnesses and then did a well-check on him. His symptoms have nearly disappeared and he never did have any of the signs of a high risk illness, such as fever. Still, it is always best practice to exercise the strictest precautions to keep any new horse – and all our other horses – safe. The kids like to refer to this period as “initial reflection.” They follow the quarantine carefully and find within it opportunities to make special connections with him.

​The process of finding a name for him began the first day we met him, but was not finished until today. After nominating many names and much discussion, the Farmhouse crew have chosen the name “Sunbeam”, with “Sunny” as an acceptable nickname. This name wasn’t really part of brainstorming, but emerged from his determination to stand in a sunbeam when turned out in our indoor arena. Also, many residents have commented on his “sunny disposition”, stating that he is the happiest horse they’ve ever met, even though he shows he would like to be out with other horses. The quarantine has to last another week and half, which feels very long. But our veterinarian will check him over on Monday and take some tests to be sure he’s all set.

​Even though he is quarantined and can’t be with other horses, he can be with kids, as long as they change jackets, dip their boots, and wash hands before handling any other horses. So he has been a star for EAPs this week, showing a strong desire to connect with kids. Also three residents have ridden him here, doing walk/trot western with gliding stops, turns-on-the-haunches and patterns and obstacles-even a complex “Shamrock” formation for St. Patrick’s Day. For some, he bowed when they finished and drew him to a stop and reinback. One lucky resident got to finish her ride by standing in the saddle with her peers and staff surrounding her and Sunbeam “spotting” in case he moved. We are excited Sunbeam has joined our team and will keep you updated as he gets acquainted with our other horses. Make sure to stop by the barn on Family Weekend and welcome Sunbeam!

Ironwood Maine Web Update

Did you hear the collective sigh of relief from everyone in the Northeast of the U.S. when the first day of spring arrived? While our campus here in Mid-Coast Maine hardly looks anything like spring, at least the calendar is indicating that it is. Roads are free of the deep frost but present challenges on the warm, “melting” days. Snowpack remains very heavy in the woods and corners of fields and snowshoes are still the common footwear for hikes.

Frye residents enjoyed a journey to do some star gazing the other night. The overnight sky here on campus is very much a living Planetarium during all seasons. We get zero “light pollution” here so the nighttime sky is visible from horizon to horizon. It is not uncommon to see the stunning setting sun colors deep into the 1-2 hours after the sun has actually set. As the sky transitions a literal 180 degree view of the constellations and unknown galaxies can be seen from the foothills of Frye Mountain. Remember that the eastern sky is only about 12 miles of land before hitting the vast expanse of Penobscot Bay and the open Atlantic Ocean.

With the lengthening of day light the Frye mini barn chores can now be tackled after the supper hour with the temps not being that deep, bone chilling cold. Soon water buckets being carried from the lodge. It makes for a more relaxed evening as the residents transition from a busy day into a serene evening.

Maple Mondays are being extended for another two or more weeks as all of this late season cold and delayed thaw has created a sap run that is unrivaled in recent history. While we could not possibly keep up with all the sap being gathered to convert to that amber gold sweetness we are planning on having enough end Maple Syrup on hand for Family Weekend to enjoy with all our culinary treats.

Our most recent intake of a teenager occurred this week. However, this one is starkly different than most as it has four legs and not two. It is from the Eques, not the Sapiens tree! Yes, the new Horse has arrived! A teenager gelding named “Pending”. His name is “pending” until we go through the effervescent process of naming the new dobbin. He is currently on his “initial reflection”, (quarantine) until he passes medical muster and joins the milieu of horses in our Farm House barn. Certain you’ll be hearing much more of him in the letters and conversations home, and will be introduced to him on Family Weekend.

Did I just mention Family Weekend again? Did you know there is one coming up soon? I’m being silly as I’m certain you’re not only aware of, but are planning for, and longingly awaiting a reunion with your child. It is absolutely amazing how the energy on campus shifts as we approach this critically important aspect of our therapeutic program. Family, therapeutic, educational, group and quiet times all come together over a 48 hour period with the objective of bringing families back together in an awakened and healed way. The residents are ready. I’m sure you are too.

Along with the natural world around us, we will be thawing out and reaching for, and embracing the new life that is spring. Please have a good week, and thank you for allowing your child to be part of our lives.