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Hard Line To Save Son

By Tom Brodbeck, Winnipeg Sun 22 March 2006


Caroline, a single mother of two teens, said she was running out of options when she sent her troubled, quarrelsome 14-year-old son to a military-style, private boarding school in Ontario last year.

Technically, it's not a boot camp. But as a rigorous, highly disciplined academy that teaches respect, loyalty and responsibility, it may as well be.

And it's something this Winnipeg mom thinks we should have in Manitoba for troubled teens, including those who get into trouble with the law.

"I had lost complete control," said Caroline of her 14-year-old, who was "on his way to becoming out of control."

He was getting into fights at school, resulting in school suspensions. He was failing class, he was disrespectful and he threw temper tantrums at home, often resulting in a hole in the wall, she said.

"He broke a couple of windows in my house when he was mad at his brother," said Caroline. "He's easily provoked and if you step over the line in his mind, the alarms go off."

He's no criminal -- he's never broken the law, she said.

But it's where her son was heading that scared her, including ending up on the wrong side of the law.

"That's what I was afraid of," said Caroline. "I thought, oh my God, what am I going to do in another two years?"

And as a last resort, Caroline marched her son off to Robert Land Academy, Canada's only private military boarding school, located 60 minutes southwest of Toronto.

"There was no other option," said Caroline. "I wish there was something here like that."

Robert Land Academy's core values are "Loyalty, labour, courage, commitment and honour."

Boys live in barrack-style dorms, they're up at the crack of 6 a.m. with barrack inspections by a company sergeant major, followed by drills, flag raising and a full day of school. There's a strong physical exercise and athletic component to the program. And above all else, there is a code of behaviour that, if violated, results in harsh discipline.

"It's very black and white there," said Caroline. "Sometimes I think, oh my God, it's so extreme -- but these kids need that."

Most of the kids who end up there are troubled youth, many of whom suffer from attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Caroline's son has ADHD. And it's what she believes has contributed to his troubled life. What's impressive about the academy is its success rate.

Among the 2004 graduating class, 100% of students were accepted into the university or college of their choice.

The point is, this is the kind of setting young offenders need. Not necessarily a private boarding school. But a boot camp, a wilderness camp -- whatever you want to call it -- that applies the principles of hard work, discipline, personal responsibility, respect and academia.

It's not a nice place to be. But it's a deterrent, a wake-up call and a much needed adjustment for some of these kids who are way off in the wrong direction.

It's not cheap, either. The cost for one recruit at Robert Land (www.robertlandacademy.com) for a year is about $34,000 and there are no government bursaries for it. Caroline's parents took a second mortgage on their house to pay the fees.

But it's the type of place we should have for the kids jacking cars, breaking into our houses and robbing gas bars.

Caroline's son will be at Robert Land for one year. And she's planning to put him back into public school in Winnipeg in the fall.

"But he knows that if that doesn't work he'll be back (at the academy)," she said. "And he does not want to go back."

I'll bet this teen's life is changed forever.