Jessica Wynne Lockhart, Toronto Star, 23 Sep 2017
It all started one night at a party. All it took was that first time for Evan Smith’s life to unravel. Before long, the teen was using drugs and narcotics and pushing his parents to their limits.
As his parents struggled to find an academic institution equipped to deal with their son’s behavioural problems, he was sent across the country from school to school — some for as briefly as two days. No matter where he went, his problems followed.
“I was getting into a lot of trouble at school,” Smith says. “At every school I went to, there was always that place where I could fulfil my need for the drugs.”
By the time Smith’s parents found Venture Academy, he had already attended four schools in his Grade 9 year. Immediately though, it became clear that Venture was going to be different.
Located near Barrie, Ont., the school caters specifically to teens with behavioural or emotional challenges, including drug use, oppositional defiant disorder and anger issues. Instead of academics, the focus is on recovery and building relationships through an emphasis on nutrition, exercise and regular schedules. Alongside full-time teachers, who assist students in completing their distance-education courses, Venture employs counsellors and clinical therapists.
“We’re more treatment-oriented than we are a school,” executive director Louise Beard says. “It’s about giving kids the opportunity to really have space to see and define their potential, even though it may look a little bit different from your mainstream schools.”
Venture’s educational approach embodies the philosophy embraced by many schools for troubled teens. Unlike the worn stereotype of shipping “problem children” off to boot camp, today’s private schools for troubled students take a holistic approach to recovery and academic success. Through psychologists and counsellors, they’re able to address underlying issues, rather than just managing the symptoms.
For those students with pre-existing conditions, reintegration into the regular school system and advancement to post-secondary education are ultimate goals of parents, educators and students alike. At Venture, students can make up lost time and credits by working at their own pace.
For Smith, his time at Venture allowed him to return home to rebuild his relationship with his family. Now in Grade11at Cambridge Academy in Markham, he’s carried the lessons he learned at Venture with him into his new life. He continues to participate in CrossFit, a passion he discovered during Venture’s thrice-weekly sessions. Most importantly, he says he now loves being at school and drugs are no longer an issue.
“I understand there are always going to be temptations. But I have so many people who have believed in me and helped me this far — not only my family, but everyone at Venture. I don’t feel the need to use drugs,” Smith says. “I’m happy with who I am and I love where I am.” * Last name has been changed.
Excerpt from Bye Bye Bootcamp, full article available https://www.pressreader.com/canada/toronto-star/20170923/283777084103428