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The Founders of Bear Creek Academy

The Founders of Bear Creek Academy



Entering the office of Bear Creek Academy,  a sign is posted on the wall:


Foundations of Personal Empowerment Program:


1.  Respect for Self.

2.  Respect for Others.

3.  Respect for Community.


I am here at Bear Creek Academy to spend a few hours talking to the kids and am going out to the local state park with them to help on their service project.  This is my first “interview” and I am wondering about my new role, not as journalist, but as “Danny” one of the kids would later say, “you are a Blogger.”


Yes, I am now a Blogger!


As Blogger, I am asking myself this question:  


What are these folks doing with kids that is unique and how does it change the world?


If you can’t read the whole thing, here is the message of Bear Creek Academy: 


they take the time to CONSTANTLY teach the kids about EVERYTHING  and the kids listen because they LIKE the staff here.  




“Please, call me Thunderbolt.” 

He was 4′ 11″, with glasses, a buzz cut, and a t-shirt with autographs on it.  This is Thunderbolt.  He is my tour guide for the morning.  He had been out throwing around the football with Mr. Paulin, the principal as I arrived at the school.  He is very talkative and loves showing me the photos of him and other students hanging on the walls.  The school is small, I wasn’t counting but only a few classrooms yet it seems like there are lots of places to go.  They have a bunch of books, enough computers, and a lot of posters on the walls with inspirational quotes on them, “Nothing worth gaining was ever gained without effort,” Theodore Roosevelt.   


“Jerome” (name changed) who had been at the school most of the year finished off the tour, eventually showing me a lot of photos of past Conservation Corps projects and other “club” projects the students did, like taking photos of themselves in the dark and using a flashlight to make designs in the photos.  “Jerome” was telling me short stories about the other students and staff members in the photos and I was getting the impression the school has a very “home away from home” sort-of feel.


Last September, Bear Creek Academy opened it’s doors in Cumberland, Virginia with less than 10 students whom are labeled as having “learning and emotional disabilities.”  Students, which are not allowed in public schools for one reason or the other.  These students that are challenging to work with.  


The owners are Ben Montano, Jason Paulin, Jason Lake, and Jordan Whiley and although new to owning a school, are not new to helping youngsters learn and grow.


66 years of working with “at-risk youth” is the tally I came up with after talking to all 6 employees, including Joan Lewis, a teacher and Erin Lake, whom to describe her as a receptionist would not encompass what she did in the few hours I was there.  (Mike Mace works at the school too and although, not technically, an employee of the school, he should be recognized for his contribution as well.) These 6 are the founder’s of the school and you can tell that everyone is VERY involved with the kids.


We all ate lunch together.  Roast Beef sandwiches with salad and some chips.  Everyone at the school was there, all the owners and founders, down to the newest student.  We talked with each other.


Bear Creek Academy has a lot of built-in extracurricular activities, like the Conservation Corps, Personal Empowerment Program, and Adventurers with Enthusiasm.  The Conservation Corps volunteers at the local state park, Bear Creek Lake, to help maintain the facilities in exchange for using the park’s beach, canoes, and other facilities.  This also allows the students to get out into the community and do their part.  The Academy also, has a Personal Empowerment Program which educates the student about character building qualities.  For example, this month is “Health” month.  Adventurers with Enthusiasm focuses on fun tasks like ropes courses to challenge the students to face their fears in a supportive environment.  The student’s are also able to earn up to 9 patches representing different milestones accomplished.  Most students had a few patches sewed onto their Conservation Corps shirts.  These forest green shirts have their last name patched on the front pocket and are clean and must be tucked in.



Bear Creek Lake State Park

Bear Creek Lake State Park



I had planned my visit because today the school goes to the local state park to volunteer some time to help the rangers maintain the facilities.

Today’s task was to clear branches that had been cut already.

 One of the students, “Danny” asked me a lot of questions.  He was good with computers and was learning how to “code” computer programs in one of his classes.  He had been at the school since September and he liked it.  The small classes, less distractions, and “more freedom” to learn different things, appealed to him.  


“We try to build relationships with the students.” Jason Lake, told me later after the kids had went home.  


At the park, although the “work” was clearing the brush, the counselor’s spent the majority of their time engaging the kids.  The counselor’s impact with the students was very apparent as we walked along the road in the park.  Filling the truck and talking about ninja moves or how to avoid having your eyes poked out by one of the 3 Stooges, the counselors were constantly complimenting the students and leading fun conversations on a wide range of topics.  At one point, a student got angry about something and went for a walk up the road with Mr. Montano.  When they returned, he hopped in the back of the truck and began grabbing branches from other students.  Good as new, it seemed.



Clearing Brush.

Clearing Brush.



With the all the brush cleared, we headed back to the school and “Jerome” told me that Bear Creek Academy helped him deal with his anger problems.  He has learned to “talk to the teacher or walk outside” when he gets angry and he likes that he “gets breaks and plays outside a lot”  at the school.


When we returned to the school, the kids changed and headed home for the day.  Another day down.


As I left the school, I got the impression I had left a family gathering.  It was obvious that Ben, Jordan, Joan, Erin, and the two Jason’s really care about the kids at the school and care about teaching them about the millions of things that teenage boys need to learn to be successful.  They took the time throughout the day to CONSTANTLY teach the kids about all aspects of life.  


Looking back on my education, I am very grateful to many of my teachers and professors, but I think I learned more about how to quickly memorize facts than to genuinely relate to people.  


Thank you Bear Creek Academy for changing the world.


Change your world,



“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt


Create your world photos.

Create your world.

May 2018
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