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Archives for August 2016

School for at risk youth, Rawhide’s Starr Academy

Some guys cannot write a paragraph when they arrive at Rawhide. Many schools struggle to find the resources needed to help students lacking basic reading and writing skills. But at Rawhide’s school for at risk youth, disengaged students thrive.

Each Starr Academy student begins with a full cognitive and behavioral assessment. The student’s case manager, therapist, teachers, and living unit staff then collaborate to form an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that pinpoints specific needs and objectives for each student. Starr Academy’s goal with each IEP is to get students close to graduation; and the results are staggering. In the 2014-15 school year:

  • 68% of students improved by more than 1 grade level in math.
  • 66% of students improved by more than 1 grade level in reading.


A big part of that success comes from a well-trained and compassionate education team. Starr Academy’s Julie Considine said, “It’s not just a kid; it’s our kid. The students become family.”

Humble beginnings

Starr Academy formed in 1980 to give the young men placed in Rawhide’s care a safe place to learn within a stable community. In its infancy, Starr Academy had two instructors and focused on work-based educational lessons. The guys worked in the stables and applied educational principles to their animal care duties. They wrote stories about horses and applied biological principles to horse care.

When they weren’t studying or doing chores, the guys chose jobs around the ranch, including:

Auto Maintenance | Animal Husbandry | Baking |

Lawn Care | House Maintenance |

The focus on work came from Rawhide founder John Gillespie’s goal: “Every guy here needs to know how to work.”

More than a school for at risk youth

The staff always comes back to: What is the most important thing I can give this guy? For many students the answer is still, since 1965, work skills. Along with actual work experience on the ranch, Starr Academy works job skills into the curriculum:

Math – Calculate income tax

English – Write cover letters and resume´s

Life Skills – Manage money, time, family, and jobs

Following a facilities upgrade in 2004 and accreditation from the Wisconsin Religious and Independent School Association, Starr Academy provides the following classes:

Integrated English | Writer’s Workshop | READ 180 |

Math-Basic Skills | Pre-Algebra | Algebra | Geometry |

US History | Civics | American History | World History |

Integrated Science | Personal Finance | Physical Education | 

Health | Art | Woodworking | Small Engines |

School for at risk youth class work


All teachers are licensed by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and many hold Special Education certifications in learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, or cross-categorical special education. Whether a student is learning how to paint or how to multiply, he will always learn from a highly skilled teacher trained to work in a school for at risk youth.

Keeping it in the community

To supplement the knowledge of its teaching staff, Starr Academy has a relationship with the New London School District  to share resources. New London’s school psychologist helps assess previously undiagnosed learning disabilities. As Rawhide grows, more and more students come in with learning roadblocks. These young men are given the educational help they need, creating confidence and excitement in school. The first step is eliminating negative connotations with school and cutting loose the notion that a student cannot succeed. That means a clean slate. While their overall GPA is used on their official transcripts, for Starr Academy purposes they start at 0.0. If they meet a certain mark every 10 weeks, they are placed on the school honor roll. Students with passing grades may join Starr Academy’s track and basketball.

Classes are built on short two-week long units giving students the opportunity to complete credits towards a diploma at an advanced rate. To accomplish a lot in a small amount of time, class sizes are kept small and communication between staff is fluid.


School for at risk youth science class


Students gain an immense amount of pride from earning a spot on the honor roll and completing lessons quickly. The outcomes are significant: 92% of students increased their GPA while at Starr Academy, and guys devoid of any reading abilities have left reading at an 11th grade level.

Solving problems goes beyond the classroom

Starr Academy math teacher Scott Wilson promotes that pride and ambition with a weight room approach in his classroom. Each guy steps up to a challenge and Scott lays out a plan to complete the task.

  1. He works on the first few “reps” with them directly then lets them takeover.
  2. They practice until they conquer the math skill.
  3. Tests and worksheets are online to give instant feedback to the students.
  4. In the 2 week cycle students master a skill and move on quickly.


Scott said if his students only take one thing away from their time at Starr Academy, he wants it to be their ability to solve problems. Their problems will go beyond math formulas, but Scott hopes his students will deploy logic and conflict resolution they learned “solving for a” to grow as men. Over his 28 years with Starr Academy, Scott has seen his share of challenges at Starr Academy. The biggest challenge he sees currently is meeting the goals of Rawhide’s treatment and education teams while exceeding the youth’s family’s expectations:

  1. Family – Wants to see results in their child’s behavior and academic ability quickly
  2. Treatment – Needs time to work with the students meaning taking students out of class
  3. Education – Works to bring the student up to a high school level skill set


All three teams try to reconcile what the student has done and experienced with their goals and aspirations.

Past: What has the student missed?

Present: What can we do for him now?

Future: What does he want to accomplish?

Scott said he focuses on giving his students 100% of his energy all the time because he never knows how long he has to work with them. Its repetition in lessons, work ethic, and showing that you care.

You get what you give

For Scott and Julie, former students success keeps them energized. Scott spoke of a student who told him that Scott’s math lessons were the foundation for his career with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. One of Julie’s favorite stories is a young man who told her that more than anything else, he learned kindness matters.

Scott attributes Starr Academy’s success to a can-do spirit among all Rawhide teachers and staff. He said, “We don’t give up on students, we believe that every kid can succeed.” For the guys to have a chance each teacher must effectively communicate their belief in each of the guys. That’s how trust and personal growth flourishes. Julie reiterated:

Were not here just because we need a job, we’re here to make a difference.

That positivity and ability to move on quickly from setbacks helps him remain fresh and dedicated to teaching in a school for at risk youth. Scott explained, “This job would get you very, very quickly without that positive spirit.” Starr Academy gives students a firm and unwavering foundation. From this ever-present base, Rawhide guys can lead positive and influential lives. Supporters to Rawhide have supplied the resources needed to give our guys this vital education for over 35 years.

We invite you to become part of that foundation. Whether you donate a car, give a small gift, or visit the ranch, your support is needed. Please click below to discover how you can support Starr Academy’s students today!

Teenage rebellion becomes ambition at Rawhide

Years of teenage rebellion left Greg Summer sitting in a courtroom awaiting his sentence. He thought he was headed to juvenile detention when a man in the court room stood up and requested the judge give him another chance. That man was Rawhide founder John Gillespie.

Greg saw himself as an outsider. He explained, “I was having problem with authority, kind of a renegade”. It was his tough, uncompromising attitude that got him into trouble, but that same will and determination led to a desire for something better at Rawhide.

Teenage rebellion paves the road to Rawhide

Greg grew up in a home focused on Christian morals and values, but he drifted from those teachings at a young age. He regularly skipped class, and, the few times he was present, gave little to no effort. Greg’s poor choices led him down a destructive path, and he faced losing his freedom if he continued his combative ways. Enter John and Jan Gillespie.


Greg admits he was a handful. But that didn’t prevent John from believing in his potential to become a better man. Greg spent two years learning from, and emulating, John’s unwavering morals and ethics. John taught him two lessons that changed his outlook on life:

  1. The importance of respecting others
  2. How learning from authority figures could enrich his own life

Temptations away from Rawhide led Greg to make some mistakes, but the skills and traits he cultivated helped him overcome obstacles. In his senior year of high school he earned a spot on his school’s honor roll and graduated, something he did not think would ever happen. Greg credits John’s loving nature and persistent encouragement for improvement as the greatest impact on his life.

Rawhide is home

After graduation, Greg served 12 years in the military, always drawing inspiration and knowledge from John’s lessons. Greg often thinks of John and Jan and ponders, “What drove them, guided them, to open up Rawhide to help young boys?” His conclusion: “Deep down in their hearts they love each and every guy that walks through these doors, and I was one of them.”

His advice for Rawhide guys is to avoid the pitfalls of teenage rebellion and entertain new ideas:

“Things always look dark from your side, but the sufferings you endure right now are nothing compared to the blessings this place can prepare for you in the future.”

While participating in Rawhide’s 50th anniversary celebration, his first time back to Rawhide in roughly 40 years, Greg stared at the grounds, astonished at how the ranch had grown and evolved. With tears in his eyes, he said, “I hope that it will help young men in the future.”

Join the Rawhide family

Help us make Greg’s hopes for Rawhide’s continued growth a reality. With continued demand for at-risk youth services, any help you give directly impacts the lives of troubled teens in your backyard and beyond. Please click below to learn about exciting ways you can help!

7 Ways Rawhide’s Art Education Benefits At-Risk Youth

Pablo Picasso learned to paint as a child from his father. Who knew at that time he’d go on to have such a profound effect on the art world? Perhaps the next Picasso or Leonardo da Vinci is at the Rawhide Ranch right now in the school’s art class. Through Starr Academy’s art education classes and the help of art instructor Terri Simpson, many of the Rawhide guys are able to realize their artistic talents, find a new passion, or even heal emotional wounds through expressive art. Here are many ways Rawhide’s art education benefits at-risk youth.

Uncovering Hidden Talent

The classes develop a variety of the guys’ skills such as drawing, painting, composition, design, color, as well as background information on different artists and their styles of work. Projects span two-week periods, allowing the guys adequate time to explore their skills in a relaxed, stress-free environment. If students discover a passion for art, they may take an additional 3-hour art elective that allows them to work together on a 10-week project.

Community Showcasing

Over the years, some projects have been displayed throughout local communities. A piece of art that the guys created is currently displayed at Schneider National in Green Bay. It is a powerful piece created back in 2012, depicting the transformation and changes of guys before and after Rawhide.

7 Ways Art Education Benefits at-Risk Youth

One artist even entered his work in an art show at New London High School (shown above)! Classes offer the guys a chance to take a break from their usual academic coursework and explore their creative side.

7 Art Education Benefits In Addition to Beautiful Art

Terri’s main focus is encouraging the individuality to come out of the guys. She believes this helps the guys become aware of who they are and can help fine tune the focus of their projects. Terri’s art classes present unique opportunities for guys to express themselves and allow them to:

  1. Reduce anxiety
  2. Reduce negative stress
  3. Develop social skills
  4. Manage behavior and addictions
  5. Reconcile emotional conflicts
  6. Achieve personal insight
  7. Flex their creative muscles

She’s seen drastic changes in many of the guys from when they first set foot in the classroom to when they leave. “Students gain confidence and become more open to art. Many have not succeeded in the public school art class. Some of the students that have prior experience become more focused on art for the future, whether it be in their next high school, college or a career in art.” The art education benefits above are just some of the ways Rawhide guys benefit from Starr Academy. Guys also have a chance to benefit from:

Art Education Benefits Healing

Our guys often create artwork that reflects their personal journeys and displays their experiences prior to Rawhide, much like many famous artists. The guys use art to explore their pain at its deepest roots, which often opens the door to healing the wounds. Expressive art fosters greater self-knowledge and a deeper understanding of who they truly are.

Stress Buster

Art class also provides guys a nice, relaxing time to try something new. As Terri stated “Art is a hands-on activity, so guys are generally pretty relaxed in my classes. It is a break from the academic, and a chance to explore new materials, techniques and styles.” Guys in the art classes are eager to show off any of the projects they work on. Recently, Terri began collaborating with the Rawhide wood shop. Guys created art for the bottom of skateboards and proceeded to transfer the art onto an actual skateboard. This was a favorite project for many of the guys.

Is Art Your Thing?

If you would like to help art education at Starr Academy continue, please consider making a donation. Your support will fund the transformation of these young men’s lives and provide them with a creative way to heal.

5 back to school tips for helping teens adjust to new school year

Stores are fully stocked with backpacks, folders, and notebooks. And that can only mean one thing: It’s time to go back-to-school! But school supplies aren’t the only thing your teen will need to prepare. A new school year is filled with new mental stresses around every corner. Help quell those worries before the year even starts so your teen has an A+ school year with our 5 back to school tips to help your teen adjust to the new school year.

Is Your Teen Facing Back to School Stress?

If your teen is stressed about the impending school year, they may display it through their actions or feelings. Your teen might:

  • Show irritability or a short temper
  • Be disagreeable or withdrawn
  • Display uncharacteristic behavior such as silliness or rebellion
  • Have reoccurring stomach pains or headaches

These behaviors may be your teen’s way of communicating their nerves and often disappear after a short time. However, if they persist or get worse, consider speaking to the school counselor or a medical professional. School avoidance or school phobia is a real issue that affects 5% of all children.

What Causes Your Teen Stress?

Many teens feel stress, worry, and anxiety before a school year. Teens might feel:

Lost and confused – New challenges such as a new locker, finding classrooms, and adjusting to a new schedule can cause anxiety and confusion for your teen.

Lonely until new friends are made – Making new friends is not easy. Your teen may initially experience hardships that come with trying to make new friends.

Worried they can’t cope with new schoolwork demands – A new school year comes with new, unknown demands. Teens encounter stresses they didn’t anticipate with new class loads, packed schedules, homework, or large projects they’ve never encountered before.

Worried they won’t “fit in”Changes in style or physical or emotional changes happen over the summer that may make your teen worry they’ll not fit in.

Afraid they won’t meet expectations of parents – New school years bring new expectations, especially if a teen is gearing up for college. They may fear failing to meet parental expectations.

Many of the stresses and worries teens face stem from the unknown. They don’t know if they’ll be able to adjust, who they’ll talk to, how much work they’ll have, or what their parents expectations are.

5 Pre Back to School Tips to Help Teens

Help ease your teen into their school environment before school starts so they can adjust and get comfortable with their surroundings. Bring your teen to school a few weeks before the year starts and:

  1. Allow them to choose school supplies – Allowing teens to pick out their school supplies can help them get excited for school to start. Have them pick out a fun backpack or trendy supplies they’ll want to show their friends.
  2. Take a tour of the school – This helps your teen experience school before it actually starts and gives your teen a mental picture of where their classrooms are.
  3. Get their locker ready – Encourage your teen to have a little fun and decorate their locker. Allowing your teen to decorate and put their school supplies in their locker before school helps them comfortably establish their own space in the school.

  1. Meet teachers before school starts – Meeting teachers before school starts helps teens get a feel of for the teacher. This helps establish comfort between the student and teacher that extends into the first day. Teachers are often in their classrooms a few weeks before the school year starts.
  2. Get sleep on track – Try to get your teen to sleep at their normally set school bedtime. Start a few weeks before school begins, allowing their body time to adjust to their school schedule.

If your teen is attending the same high school you attended, share stories involving your time there. Show them where your favorite hangout was, tell them a funny story of something that happened to you in school, or show them a trophy you helped win. Remember to remind your teen that they’re going into an exciting learning environment full of friends and peers to direct them in a positive direction.

Encourage Teens During School Year

Once the new school year begins, open daily dialogue about their experiences at school. Ask them about their favorite classes, if they met anybody new, or what their favorite moment was from the day. Remain encouraging and positive to ease their worries about meeting your expectations. If they’re struggling with something, share personal stories of struggles you may have faced in school. Opening up to your teen helps them know they can come to you.

Help Rawhide Guys Transition Back to School

Rawhide’s Starr Academy has year round school, but as the summer comes to a close, students gear up for new classes. You can help ease the transition back to school for our guys. A donation to Rawhide helps fund Starr Academy, allowing our guys to learn and grow in a safe environment. Click below to learn how you can play a role in their education!

Back to School Tips donate to Rawhide