In just a few days, 18-year-old Tyler will graduate from Green Chimneys. As a high school senior, he recognizes that this is an expected milestone. He is also aware of his own mixed emotions about this big step. When asked what or who at Green Chimneys he will miss most, Tyler quickly replied, “I’ll miss the staff, the horses, but most of all, the kids.”
This is notable shift from when Tyler first came to Green Chimneys. In his school district at home, Tyler experienced bullying. Because of this and other experiences, Tyler avoided communication as much as possible and had given up on trying to connect with peers. His school days in Kingston, New York were fraught with loneliness and frustration. Tyler had no way to channel his feelings or articulate his needs. Most of all, he lacked the confidence to believe that he could have better and could do better.
In 2016, at the age of 14, Tyler reluctantly began the two-hour bus ride to Green Chimneys School. As soon as he was acquainted with the Brewster campus, Tyler was drawn to the horse barn. Tyler’s Social Worker, Tara Doran, coordinated with Equine Program Coordinator Samantha Arevalo, to incorporate horses into weekly therapy sessions.
“The beauty of working with animals is that they can create a safe space which can help children to open up,” explains Tara. “Things come up when interacting with the animals that can be challenging for many to dig up or share during a typical talk therapy session.”
Together, Tyler and Tara tracked miniature horse Maya’s pregnancy. When Cricket was born, observing the mother-child relationship created room for Tyler to discuss and build connection. Giving and receiving affection had special meaning for Tyler. During one particular session, he and Tara sat on the ground of the indoor riding ring. The pair of humans formed a mutual grooming circle with Maya and Cricket. In that circle there was trust. And calm. And acceptance.
In time, the openness Tyler showed on the farm transferred to the classroom, the wood shop, and into the garden. He began to build friendships. And Tyler’s natural leadership skills emerged when he initiated a project, collaborating with peers and adults inside and outside of Green Chimneys, to raise funds for retired horses at nearby Mitchell Farm. His proven work ethic and sense of responsibility earned him an apprenticeship in the horse barn this year. His social-emotional growth and maturity means is able to move about campus and work on the farm unsupervised. Tyler is trusted. And respected.
“Tyler has shown excellent teamwork, communication, professionalism and critical thinking, explains Samantha Arevalo. “I have presented him with multi-step tasks that require analysis and educated guesswork, and he always thinks about safety and makes responsible decisions.”
Today, Tyler is also a mentor to several Green Chimneys students.
His caring abilities make him an excellent peer. And there’s no question that at Green Chimneys, Tyler has friends. He has a network of staff which support him. He is able to easily visit the horses that have given him purpose. And he understands that leaving his community brings feelings of loss along with a sense of pride. With great accomplishment comes the reality of changing places, faces and routines. As such, Tara has reminded Tyler of the healthy and appropriate ways to stay connected to his school, his community.
After graduation, Tyler will be pursuing trade school to become a blacksmith. He is one of 25 who will graduate high school this week, and we are incredibly proud of their individual and collective growth. While reflecting on his five years as a Green Chimneys student, Tyler was asked what advice he would give a new student. Tyler promptly replied, “Don’t think of Green Chimneys as a bad place you’ll never get out of. There are no bullies here. It changed my life. If you’re having a tough time, tell your teacher. Ask to see the horses so you can cool off. That’s what I do. And remember, tomorrow is a fresh start.”
Ensure that students like Tyler continue to receive the therapeutic education and clinical services needed to build coping skills, develop confidence, and realize futures. Give to Green Chimneys today