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 |

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.

  • The largest classroom has six students and at least two instructors at all times.
  • Teachers have weekly meetings with counselors and living unit staff.
  • Lunch is one hour so students can eat as a family in their home; they can decompress and re-energize before their afternoon classes.
  • Students are constantly assessed and moved around based on their needs and ambitions.
  • Every student has access to Title 1 Math and Reading specialists.

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!