"Just wanted to let you know that I'm graduating today and just wanted to thank you so so much for all the help you have me with school.... There's absolutely no way I would be where I am today without all your help and support, and I definitely wouldn't be walking across that stage. I'm so grateful that God put in my life."
The National Education Association's Twelve Point Plan for Reducing the School Dropout Rate pinpoints "community-based, real-world learning experiences for students" and involvement in small after school groups as a key factor in increasing the rate of high school graduation. Brook Hill Farm's unique program, United Neigh, utilizes Equine Facilitated Learning combined with traditional tutoring to provide just such an experience for at-risk and disabled youth at its Bedford County, Virginia facility.
United Neigh accepts youth ages 12-18 from Lynchburg City and surrounding counties. The teens are from various backgrounds, some disadvantaged or abused, while others have learning or physical disabilities. Participants follow a program that instills self-confidence, a strong sense of personal responsibility, recognition of the value of teamwork, and real-life workplace skills. This is accomplished through a bond of trust with a horse whose background is, too often, just as painful as their own. The youth come to the farm two days a week and get to call a rescue horse their own as they aid the farm with its mission of rehabilitation.
College interns, earning college credit from local universities, are mentors. These role models promote the value of education, healthy lifestyle choices, and hard work in a safe, family setting. Academic performance is a high priority; the youth struggling with school work are tutored by college interns and volunteer staff. Adult volunteers are on duty each program day, giving the teens a ratio of one teen to one caring adult. Success at school is stressed - members work with other members, interns, and adults, receiving tutoring in subjects that they struggle with.
The Equine Facilitated Learning model and work experience that is achieved through the program instills young people with a strong sense of personal responsibility and accountability. Everyone is a part of the Brook Hill family, sharing work, passion, triumphs and disappointments. Everyone works together towards the mission of helping the rescue horse. Through hard work and love, the youth care for and heal their rescue horses, and, very often, find healing themselves. Since the program's inception in 2002, the at-risk youth who have completed the program have all graduated from high school and have pursued some type of secondary education. These figures boast a 100% high school graduation rate among its members, and most impressive a 100% rate of continuing education!
"For the past three years I have been able to have the experience of not only riding but been able to do that in a caring, selfless, and emotionally safe environment."
The video above was created by the youth in the United Neigh Program and was awarded the top Adobe Youth Voices video in Virginia in 2011. You can see how much it means to them to participate!