As the philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” A student’s arrival day at Open Sky is the first step on a journey of healing and discovery. While each students’ arrival experience is unique, in this blog post we share what the first day of the Open Sky journey looks like for most students.
Some students arrive with parents at the Open Sky Durango office, other students (more typically young adults) travel on their own and are met at the airport, while others meet Open Sky staff in Durango.
Understanding that students and parents may be experiencing anxiety or nervousness as they arrive, significant collaboration occurs between Open Sky staff associated with the admissions, transportation, field and operations, Family Services, and medical teams to welcome students and their loved ones with support, empathy, and compassion.
Often, a student’s first point of contact is with a two-person team of Open Sky’s transport specialists, who meet the student with smiles, compassion, and a bottle of water – crucial ingredients for a welcoming start to the Open Sky program. The transport specialists share the arrival day plan and provide support until the student meets their team in the field.
Transport specialists understand the importance of establishing rapport and building trust with new students and are earnest in making them feel more comfortable through authentic connection. This sensitivity is essential for students who arrive feeling anxious or upset. The transportation team focuses on ensuring support for the incoming student throughout the day by helping them meet their basic needs with plenty of water, healthy food, and rest, as well as empathy and understanding. They are also available to answer any questions students may have.
“We take to heart in the fact that as transport specialists, we can set the tone for a student’s experience here,” says Rick Crawford, Open Sky’s Transportation Director. “We’re supportive, empathetic, intuitive, and our hearts are in it 100%. This is the culture of Open Sky; it is felt from the moment you begin this journey and become part of the Open Sky family.”
Open Sky’s goal is to get the student into the field as soon as possible so that they can start easing into their new surroundings and meet their team – those with whom they will be sharing their journey.
The first step in the student’s intake process is completing paperwork and dropping off medication (if applicable) to Open Sky’s pharmaceutical coordinator for processing. Next, the student is seen at Durango Urgent Care for a physical examination to confirm that they are healthy enough to participate in our program. The student also receives a tetanus shot, if needed, and completes a routine lab draw. After this visit, lunch follows at a healthy local restaurant like Zia Taqueria or Raider Ridge Café.
The transport specialists then drive the student to Open Sky’s operations ranch in Mancos, Colorado. Here, the student’s personal belongings are inventoried, recorded, and stored, to be returned upon graduation from the program. Following inventory collection, students are outfitted with brand new Open Sky gear. This thorough outfitting process sets students up for success in the field, providing the equipment and clothing they need to participate in all aspects of the program.
“There is an important philosophical aspect to making sure students are outfitted properly,” said Danny Frazer, Program Director for Open Sky. “The emphasis is really around compassion, care, and consideration and doing what we can to build trust as we take care of the logistical details.”
After the outfitting process, the student is driven to the field to meet their team. The team is made up of other students, including a student mentor, field guides, a field manager, and the student’s therapist. Here, the field manager and field guides receive updates on how the student is doing as well as other pertinent information including dietary restrictions, medical information, and wellness needs.
The support the team and especially the mentor provide to the incoming student is essential. Typically, the student’s arrival day is full and for those who arrive emotional, anxious, or agitated, meeting their student mentor, who can provide empathy and an experienced perspective, is vital.
“A mentor provides a one-on-one connection with someone who can be emblematic of where the new student can be in time, providing hope to them,” said Danny.
The student’s mentor provides a bridge to their team, which becomes their close community at Open Sky. The importance of this peer support is crucial and an essential aspect of each student’s progress in the program, starting with their first day.
Throughout the student’s arrival day, there is a constant flow of communication between multiple Open Sky teams to ensure that each student’s specific needs are considered. For instance, the operations team responds to special gear needs and shares specific dietary requirements with food coordinators.
The transport specialists also communicate with Open Sky’s medical director, pharmaceutical coordinator, field medic, doctor, and staff psychiatrist, as necessary. They share details on the student’s urgent care visit, medications, and specific medical needs with the medical staff. If appropriate, students may also meet with the Open Sky psychiatrist on arrival day.
With the many moving parts and necessary steps that make up arrival day, all Open Sky staff are sensitive to ensuring that students receive the care, compassion, and support they need as they transition into the field.
The student’s arrival day at Open Sky may be emotional for parents. As Matthew Krugh, Family Services Director, puts it, “The Open Sky program is a rite of passage that the family is embarking on. A warm reception for the family is really important in helping parents to accept this process and to let go, in a sense.”
Matthew further explains that there may be some grief at the separation of students and their parents, and the Open Sky staff are present to work with parents, gently supporting them with skills such as mindfulness, breathing, and feelings checks.
Parents receive updates throughout the student’s first day from their admissions counselor, who is in close communication with Open Sky’s transport specialists. Additionally, a family care coordinator sends a welcome email to parents with information on the student’s intake and transition to the field and follows up within 24 hours with more specifics on the logistics and details of the day. The family care coordinator is a family’s administrative point person at Open Sky, assigned upon enrollment and available throughout their entire journey in the program. They represent a friendly and familiar voice on the other end of the phone if parents have questions, are seeking information, or need support.
“Families are holding a lot, and I value that we are able to support them with providing timely logistical support or just making further connections” said Hunter King, Lead Family Care Coordinator.
Parents are also provided with several resources to support their parallel experience as an Open Sky family. They have 24-hour access to a secure Parent Portal, where they can find helpful resources, such as the Family Pathway; family documents; and photos of and letters from their child. Parents can also consult thorough descriptions, logistical information, and registration details for the various services we offer, such as Wellness Weekend, parent coaching, the Family Quest™ intensive, Family Pathway class, Monday evening parent calls, Thursday evening Family Pathway class, and graduation.
It is of the utmost importance to Open Sky that families feel they can trust the path they have embarked upon with their child. Providing a positive arrival day for both parents and students is essential, ensuring that from the very first meeting, Open Sky families feel secure and supported in the decision they’ve made on their journeys of healing and discovery.