Kindle Farm School Offers More Than the ABCs


“My struggle with anger problems, communication skills, and trust has been a lifelong struggle for me. I was always kicked out of class or suspended from school more than I was there. One of the biggest problems I faced was how to take responsibility for my actions…It took me about four and a half years, a bunch of conflicts, tears, and mostly hard work and dedication for Kindle Farm staff members to get through to me and help me be the person I have become. So, I just wanted to say thanks for not giving up on me and pushing me to my full potential.”

Kindle Farm Graduate

This student’s statement is representative of many of the hundreds of students who found success at Kindle Farm School, a division of Health Care & Rehabilitation Services (HCRS).

Kindle Farm opened its doors in 1996 in Newfane, Vermont as an after-school program for seven boys who were struggling in school. It now has an enrollment of more than 50 students in grades 2 to 12. In addition to academics and therapeutic supports, Kindle Farm offers a modern culinary program, organic farming, maple sugaring, and a logging certification program as well as an extended school year, farm-based summer program.

Students attend Kindle Farm who have diagnosed disabilities and are significantly behind in at least one of several academic areas, and only after the sending school has tried a variety of interventions that, despite their best efforts, did not work to meet the student’s needs. Thus, students often enter Kindle Farm feeling like a failure, not seeing themselves as capable learners, distrusting adults, and seeing schools as a traumatic experience.

According to J.J., a charismatic 5th grader with significant emotional intelligence, “When I first got here, I was the most nervous person in the world. The first few weeks, I was struggling hard, but a few months later I was crushing it!” The great thing is, J.J. is right. By the end of his first year, J.J. had vastly improved.

Kindle Farm’s daily structure allows for smooth transitions, relationship building, and ensuring students are prepared to learn. Morning classes are followed by a two-hour block in the afternoon that focuses on therapeutic activities and skill-building electives.

Throughout Kindle Farm’s history, between 75-90% of its student population live at or below the poverty line, and there is significant evidence that poverty is highly associated with Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are defined as traumatic events occurring before age 18. ACEs include all types of abuse and neglect, as well as substance abuse, divorce, incarceration, and domestic violence.

Such cumulative exposure to ACEs causes stress that behaves as a toxin in the developing brain of a child. In the absence of protective factors, this toxic stress can change a child’s neural architecture.

From its inception, Kindle Farm has offered many protective factors for its students. First, the school provides close relationships with competent, caring adults through its 3:1 student to staff ratio.

A second protective factor that Kindle Farm engenders is cultivating a sense of purpose. Students are called upon to use their skills and aptitudes and to contribute in meaningful ways. This is imperative, as being a recognized and celebrated individual repairs self-esteem and creates the possibility for struggling students to see themselves as able learners.

Social connections are fostered during the more than 30 activities offered in the community every week. Kindle Farm students can be seen deejaying at the local radio station, lifting weights at the local gym, making T-shirts at a local screen-printing shop, or volunteering at the Humane Society.

Drew Gradinger, Kindle Farm Director, states, “We thrust our students into our local environs, and they blossom quickly into engaged community members and see the value of human capital.”

The stigma that many of the student feel is ameliorated by the pride they take in the school’s facilities and grounds. Many classes at Kindle Farm are run on a 100-acre organic farm with apple and pear trees, a maple sugar shack, and gardens galore.

Finally, Kindle Farm’s rich programming allows for opportunities not afforded to many rural students: experiences at local ski resorts, fitness centers, and more allow students to gain valuable social skills and see themselves in these social contexts.

The brain’s “plasticity” and ability to regenerate new neural networks are being fostered by the school’s culture. A culture low in toxic stress creates the possibility for the brain to change and for new development, including skill acquisition, to happen.

When a student is successful at Kindle Farm, the change can be remarkable. Many students return to their sending school and take advantage of being in their local school community.

When D.J., a former student, came to Kindle Farm, he had been struggling in mainstream environments, felt misunderstood, and had mistrust from prior school situations. In less than two years, D.J. developed the required skills to be safe and engaged in the program and started to see himself maturing beyond Kindle Farm supports. He developed the goal of becoming an independent student and asked for a transition to a local charter school, where he is now successfully maintaining his newfound skills and is a confident and independent student. 

Some students who graduate from Kindle Farm have gone on to do internships in Costa Rica, others have gone to technical schools or college, and almost all alumni look back at Kindle Farm as a pivotal turning point in their lives.

Gradinger states, “Success looks different for all students, and we hope that the social, emotional, and academic teaching we deliver allows our alumni to develop their best selves and achieve their goals, hopes, and dreams.”

George Karabakakis, Ph.D., HCRS CEO, states, “It is a remarkable experience to attend a Kindle Farm graduation and see how these young men have entered into a world of confidence with a sense of mastery from their educational accomplishments.” 

The school has evolved over its 24-year history, having served thousands of students in over 15 school districts across Vermont and New Hampshire. Gradinger concludes, “It is a privilege for all of us at Kindle Farm to do this good work, and we will always believe our motto, that Every Kid Deserves a Chance.”

About HCRS Founded in 1967, Health Care & Rehabilitation Services of Southeastern Vermont is a non-profit, community mental health agency serving Vermonters in Windham and Windsor counties. HCRS serves over 4,000 individuals every year through its mental health, substance abuse, and developmental disabilities programs. The agency provides holistic care for clients, supporting them with employment, housing, transportation, and other social service needs. Visit www.hcrs.org for more information.


This series is a collaboration produced by members of the Vermont Care Partners.

Vermont Care Partners is a statewide network of sixteen non-profit, community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use and intellectual and developmental disability support. To find an agency near you visit https://vermontcarepartners.org/agencies/.

 

You Might Also Like

  • Mental Health Literacy: a critical step on the path to…

    Public health initiatives have long been used to encourage healthy behaviors, raise awareness of the causes and effects of illnesses, and prompt people to recognize symptoms and seek treatment. Most of the well-known public health initiatives of recent decades have focused on physical health and now organizations like Howard Center are utilizing some of the […]

  • LCMHS Partners With Local Supervisory Union To Support Student Mental…

    In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, risk factors for all students and families are increasing – as is the opportunity to build resilience. Project Aware provides a framework to review current supports and services to promote system change that supports mental wellness for all students.  Lamoille County Mental Health Services (LCMHS), the Designated Mental […]

  • Supporting Children and Families During COVID-19: Community Care Network-Rutland Mental…

    In Mid-March, schools across America began to close in an effort to slow the spread of the rapidly evolving novel coronavirus. In a matter of days, nearly every student in America lost face-to-face access to the daily enrichment, socialization, mental health support, education, and meals schools provide. But school closures don’t just impact children, they […]

  • Our Doors are Open: A Message from VCP on Community…

    Stressed? Overwhelmed? Hopeless? You are not alone. Life has changed dramatically in the past few weeks, but Vermont’s designated and specialized service agencies are still here to help.  Our agencies are now meeting the mental health, substance use disorder and developmental services needs of Vermonters via video and phone. Our virtual doors are open.  Clinical […]

  • Keeping connected through the screen: how one mental health center…

    Keeping healthcare accessible right now is important for us all. When many people hear the term “essential services”, mental health may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Continuing access to mental health support is not only important for everyone’s stress, it is vital for people who are healing after past psychological trauma.  […]

  • COVID-19 & A Commitment to Mental Health

    Uncertainty. It’s the watchword of today. Yet, in looking around there is hope. There is support. There is a commitment to the wellbeing of others. Acts of kindness and compassion are everywhere, lifting one another up. And there is no doubt that these challenging times will pass. In the face of a global COVID-19 pandemic, […]

  • Journeying Back to Myself: Restoring Trust in Vermont’s Mental Healthcare…

    I feel like I am finally coming awake from a deep, heavy slumber. I can stretch a few inches taller and shake the cold out of my limbs. I can feel the warmth of the sun glinting down on me, returning energy to my body. I can see the beauty and the color of life […]

  • Older adults are unique in their needs; many suffer from…

    Karen always had an active life full of family, friends, work and community involvement. Now the kids have flown the coop, her years of employment are over and medical conditions limit her ability to get out and about. She found that her feelings of depression and anxiety which used to be manageable became more difficult […]

  • Employment brings purpose, builds community

    Have you ever known someone that seems to run into bad luck but somehow perseveres? Despite multiple losses and hardships, Mark is someone with a rock-solid work ethic. In the summer, he often works two jobs and will walk miles to get to them. He takes pride in his work and has a positive attitude […]

  • Community Programs Lead Vermont in Positively Impacting Population Health Outcomes

    The Vermont Care Partners FY19 Outcomes and Data Report highlights the positive impact of its designated and specialized service agency programs on population health. Vermont Care Partners’ (VCP) is a statewide network of sixteen non-profit, community-based agencies provide mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports.  Initiatives to impact population health […]


VTDigger
VTDigger

FREE
VIEW