On July 10, 1995, the Woodward Academy opened as an all-male residential treatment facility for boys ages 12-18. The 1980’s and 1990’s saw a rise in juvenile crime across the country, and Governor Branstad wanted to address the problem. Woodward Academy was created in response to legislation passed by the Iowa Legislature calling for the establishment of rehabilitation programs for troubled youth. On that day, Woodward was one of two “boot camps” established in the state (the facility in Davenport no longer operates).
The four students and 13 staff members who started on that day had no idea that over the next two decades, Woodward Academy would become one of the best juvenile treatment facilities in the nation. Those humble beginnings have grown into a school that has a student population of 265 students and that employs 235 staff members. Every day, students receive the clinical services they deserve, are offered an educational curriculum from certified teachers, and are given opportunities to excel in high school athletics. Although Woodward Academy is labeled a treatment facility, it operates like a private prep school where students are proud to be Knights.
The Woodward Youth Corporation (WYC), a non-profit organization, was created in 1995 to manage the day-to-day activities of Woodward Academy. One building was leased and renovated from the Woodward Resource Center, which served as the first 24-bed dormitory for students. By August of 1995, that dorm was full and Woodward never stopped growing. In October of ’95, space for a second dormitory was added and in the following January, the Academy expanded to another building and its third dormitory. In just under one year’s time, Woodward Academy had four programs operating and 96 beds available for students.
A routine was established very early on with the students during the first year. They would wake up at 6:00 a.m. and head to “group.” After that, they would “run for fun,” followed by school. During those days, the educational curriculum consisted only of three classes: English, math, and social studies. School was held in what is now the powerlifting weight room and partitions were set up to create classrooms. Needless to say, the noisy area was not exactly conducive to teaching and learning. A lot of positive things were accomplished during the first couple years, including the first graduating class in October ’95. Jake B. was the top-performing student in that group and today is a husband, father, and successful licensed chiropractor.
The early years saw rapid growth for the Academy, but the school was still in its infancy. The staff were new, many inexperienced, and at times the primary daily focus was survival. As a result, student “buy-in” was lacking and relationships between students and staff were not solid. For the first five years, the WYC partnered with Youth Services International (YSI) and Correctional Services Corporation, whose main function was to help manage Woodward Academy. That contract expired in 2000 and the WYC decided it was in the best interest of Woodward Academy to partner with Sequel Youth and Family Services. When Sequel came on board, the philosophy changed on campus and the groundwork was laid for what the Academy would eventually become.
A New Culture:The most significant development was the adoption of a new normative culture. The philosophy at its core is still utilized today and it is one of the primary reasons why students are proud to be Woodward Academy Knights. It is what makes their time on campus much different than anything else they had experienced before and ultimately, what helps them make positive changes in their life. It is engrained in everything that happens on campus and it dictates how students and staff interact.
Prior to Sequel coming on board, the culture on campus was focused on structure and forcing change in students. After joining Sequel, a new mentality was ushered in: one that set aside the imbalance of power and put students in leadership positions. Training for both staff and students was at the forefront of this philosophy. The most significant development at this time was the revamping and growth of the Knights Club. Under the new philosophy, students played a more active role in their program and took more ownership of their behaviors and other students on their dorm. Positive behaviors became the expectation and they were reinforced by the students. Of course the philosophy is grounded in structure, but today it is woven in the fabric of every day life.
Today, when a new student comes on campus, it is understood that everything is foreign to them. Many of those students resort to some of the negative behaviors that got them adjudicated to Woodward Academy in the first place. They are quickly mentored by other students and given alternatives to their behavior. This process has been refined over the years, but it has proven to be incredibly beneficial at enlisting students to be active in the behavioral landscape of campus. Nearly every aspect of student life is impacted by the Knights Club. From being able to participate in extracurricular activities and athletics, to establishing a timeline for discharge is impacted by their Knight status. For many students, receiving their Knight is a goal from the start and this attitude has had a positive impact on both the student and staff culture on campus.
Woodward Academy joined Sequel at the perfect time because there were a lot of new students coming on campus. In 2002, a fifth dorm was added that brought the student census up to 120 students. An additional dorm was added each of the next two years and by August 2004, the Academy’s capacity had grown to 168 students.
An increase in students also required an expansion of facilities. In 2000, the decision was made to create an education center. At a cost of just over $700,000, the new school building opened in late 2002 and moved the crowded, partitioned classrooms from the weight room into a building with 11 classrooms and a gymnasium. The expanded space was only the beginning for an education program that now has 25 classrooms, a computer lab, 3 conference rooms, and offices within 4 buildings dedication to schooling.
The best part about growing as a school has been the continued expansion in other areas as well. In 2007, the student moving company, Knights on the Move, started operation, allowing students to earn a wage while on campus. Additional student jobs have been added throughout the years and now include custodial work in the schools and administrative buildings, and during the summer a landscaping crew helps mow and maintain the campus grounds. The Academy’s athletic facilities have grown considerably and now include a new baseball field (2012), powerlifting weight room updated with collegiate equipment (2012), and a football field and track (updated in 2013).
The first 20 years in Woodward Academy’s history has seen remarkable growth. More importantly, the first 20 years has seen Woodward Academy provide remarkable services and opportunities to at-risk youth who are often marginalized by society. As a school, Woodward Academy has proven that when expectations are set, and resources provided to succeed, students from all walks of life can excel. At Woodward Academy, success is a norm and it will only expand as the school moves into its next 20 years.