RedCliff Ascent believes in ceremony and celebration. From welcomes and goodbyes to celebrations of growth, we work to honor your teens through their process of wilderness therapy.
When new students arrive at RedCliff Ascent, they are in a vulnerable place. Many students are scared, uncertain, or angry. Within the first two days that students arrive, staff and other students welcome the newcomers with a ritual called the Spoon Ceremony. The ceremony begins with everyone sitting in a circle and passing around a handmade wooden spoon carved by someone at RedCliff Ascent. Each person that touches the spoon puts a hope or an intention into the spoon for the newcomer to welcome them into the program.
The leader of the ceremony talks about the metaphor behind the spoon. For example, you can use a spoon to nourish yourself or someone else. Another metaphor discussed in the ceremony relates to transformation. Generally, the spoon begins as a rough piece of wood. When woodcarvers look at rough pieces of wood, they see beautiful potential. By expertly removing the unnecessary pieces of wood, woodcarvers eventually get down to the thing they were fine-tuning to get inside of the wood.
Similarly, students who come to RedCliff are often a little rough around the edges. However, although the students might have some poor behavior patterns when they arrive at RedCliff, there is something beautiful and unique inside them. By helping them and encouraging them to let go of the unnecessary things, staff and students help the newcomer to strengthen the good things they already have within them. With the rough edges smoothed away, the newcomer can become the beautiful person they are inside.
Earth Name Ceremony
At RedCliff Ascent, we transform lives. When people show signs of transformation, they earn an Earth Name. The Earth Name represents what we are inside and what we could potentially become. Earth Names celebrate the changes that people make in their lives. Also, they help students mark times of transformation as new phases of their journey. As they accomplish good things, they are recognized for who they are inside rather than who they used to be. Then, RedCliff honors them with an Earth name.
When students arrive at RedCliff Ascent, they find themselves starting at the beginning–as in the Stone Age. New arrivals receive Stone Age tools and are taught how to use them. For example, students learn how to build fires by carving fire-boards out of stone tools.
As students advance through the program, they earn more advanced tools. One of the most useful tools that students earn, and the most coveted, is a knife. The students who earn knife privileges are honored with a Knife Ceremony.
Not every student who goes through the program earns access to use a knife, but most of the students do. To earn a knife, a student must fully participate in the program for at least 21 days. Therefore, receiving a knife is a genuine honor that represents not only the students’ hard work but having earned the trust of the staff and their peers.
“When the knife goes to the field, we don’t just hand it off, we like to do it very ceremoniously,” says Field Director Stacy Sturtvant.
The ceremony begins with students and staff gathering in a circle. A staff member will honor the student who earned a knife by talking about the positive changes the student had made, and the way this student has earned and maintained trust. Typically, staff members also describe progressing from the stone age to the iron age. This transition symbolizes leaving behind old behaviors and learning to function in more productive and positive ways.
“It is almost a magical moment when kids earn a knife,” Stacy says. “In that moment they are being recognized for doing something good. That is important because these kids can get caught in patterns of bad behavior. They start to thrive on that because they are getting attention, even though it is negative attention. When they are honored in the Knife Ceremony, they are getting attention and being recognized for doing good things. It can really be a turning point for a lot of these kids.”
The actual Goodbye Ceremony is less defined than many of the other ceremonies at RedCliff Ascent, such as the Welcome Ceremony, the Naming Ceremony, and the Knife Ceremony. This allows staff members to customize the Goodbye Ceremony to whatever the individual student happens to need.
During the Goodbye Ceremony, each person in the group has an opportunity to express their gratitude and say goodbye. Then the student who is leaving goes on a vision quest. That student spends the night close to, but outside of, the group. The experience of being physically and symbolically set apart helps the program prepare students to leave RedCliff Ascent.
Graduation from our wilderness therapy program comes after the student has completed the curriculum and has shown through his or her behavior, attitude, and expression an internal change. The student must show emotional regulation and a commitment to allowing parents to direct the relationship. In other words, the student’s cognitive realizations and verbal commitments align with his or her behavior.
Parents make the ultimate determination on whether or not their teen has achieved growth in their relationship. Curriculum completion is just one measure of a child’s readiness. Throughout the therapy process, parents have had access to weekly clinical evaluations, field assessments, and, when requested, a psychological evaluation.
The graduation ceremony is a two-day process. Parents are notified when their child will be graduating so they can make the necessary arrangements to attend. A seminar starts the ceremony where the parents prepare for the reunion with their teen. At the end of the seminar, parents are escorted to Outpost where they will experience the “run in.” Field staff prepares the student for a quarter-mile run into the open arms of waiting parents. After reuniting, parents and the student share a wilderness camping experience at Outpost hosted by the RedCliff Ascent staff. All in all, the focus of the graduation experience is to break down any barriers that may exist between parents and youth and open the doors of love, understanding, communication, and respect.