McHenry School District 156, Main Stay Theraputic Farm to implement program for at-risk youth

'Inspiring New Direction' funded by McHenry County Community Foundation grant

By BRITTANY KEEPERMAN - bkeeperman@shawmedia.com Published: Monday, Sept. 4, 2017 12:33 a.m. CDT
H. Rick Bamman file photo – hbamman@shawmedia.com Main Stay Therapeutic Riding Center's Amy Racette receives a smile from Cassa, a former Chicago carriage horse that was rescued. Racette is a side-walker at the center. — H. Rick Bamman

McHENRY – McHenry School District 156 and Main Stay Therapeutic Farm are partnering to bring a program for at-risk students to the stable.  

The pilot program, “Inspiring New Direction,” is funded by a $10,800 grant from the McHenry County Community Foundation. The program is focused on creating an alternative to the typical student disciplinary process involving suspensions and detentions.

“It’s an experiential learning opportunity,” Main Stay Executive Director Loriann Dowell said. “Students will be interacting with our animals through various activities. The goal is to give them positive coping skills when confronted with conflict.”

District 156 staff will be in charge of referring students to the weekly program.

“It is more of an intervention type of program,” Dowell said. “It’s for kids that are perhaps headed down that path of being consistently in trouble, to step in and head it off so they don’t end up in [suspension and detention] type of situations.”

Main Stay offers programs such as therapeutic riding and animal-assisted activities for clients who have disabilities and have experienced trauma. An additional grant from the community foundation also will allow the stable to offer activities for those struggling with grief.

Main Stay developed the program in-house, but the idea of looking for alternative ways to intervene with at-risk youth isn’t new, Dowell said.

“Research has found a lot of the time, a typical disciplinary action program doesn’t necessarily work with kids,” she said. “We have done extensive work with at-risk youth. This is the first program of its kind we have done here that is targeted with this specific outcome.”

The benefits of working with animals in a therapeutic setting are numerous, Dowell said.

“Animals are very honest,” she said. “They react very much to whatever they are given right then. There’s no hidden agenda. A lot of times that plays well with kids, getting that automatic, pure reaction.”

Dowell wants to have the program running by late September. If successful, the agency wants to begin working with other schools in the county, she said.

“We are very grateful to the foundation for this,” Dowell said. “If they hadn’t funded the program, we wouldn’t have the financial resources to do it. We are grateful to get this opportunity to roll the program out.”