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Integrating Treatment and Education: Academic Opportunities for Young Adults at Open Sky

The Open Sky Team

Open Sky values learning at every level of our organization. From professional development for staff to online education for parents to experiential learning opportunities for students, we encourage the active pursuit of knowledge and growth for our entire community. For example, our partnership with Western Colorado University allows young adult students to earn college credits while at Open Sky as well as reimburse program expenses using college savings.  

Earning College Credits

Many young adults who are experiencing challenges with mental health, substance use, or independent living have to interrupt or delay attending college. At Open Sky, however, young adults can choose to continue to pursue their education by enrolling in a three-credit-hour class through Western Colorado University while receiving treatment. The class – a special topics psychology course titled Nature and the Human Psyche – is specifically designed to enrich each student’s therapeutic, academic, and wilderness experience. 

An Open Sky Wilderness Therapy student writes in a notebook in the field. Students at Open Sky may pursue both their education and treatment.

Academic Experience

Through independent study, group engagement, and experiential learning, students enrolled in Nature and the Human Psyche strengthen their core capacity for attention, curiosity, awareness, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and connection. Students explore a variety of topics relevant to their treatment and education, such as humanistic psychology, psychoanalytic approaches to understanding the mind, meditation, yoga, Aristotle and virtue ethics, emotional intelligence, cognitive dissonance, sources of motivation, ecopsychology, and more. 

Therapeutic Experience

The course content of Nature and the Human Psyche is also designed to align with the Student Pathway, a collection of resources, skills, and assignments that each student progresses through during their stay at Open Sky. Some of the assignments in Nature and the Human Psyche overlap with those in the Student Pathway, while others introduce new material meant to further enrich each student’s treatment process.  

“The coursework helped me to deepen my therapeutic work,” said one young adult student, Mick. “Reading about addiction being the opposite of connection helped me to think differently about my past use. I am now considering how I can strengthen my relationships more and create the friendships and community that will help sustain my growth.” 

An Open Sky Wilderness Therapy student pursues his education by reading a book in the field.

Wilderness Experience

The aim of Open Sky’s approach is to meet students where they are and to engage them in recognizing their capacities to create a life worth living and support and lead others in doing the same. The wilderness serves as our co-teacher in this process. By engaging with the beauty and challenge of the environment and the elements, students learn confidence and competence beyond what is available in a traditional classroom. Their experiences shift from ones of simply surviving to ones of thriving.   

Reimbursing Program Expenses

When registered for three credit hours in the approved course, families can use funds from 529 plans and AmeriCorps vouchers to pay for the Open Sky program and Western Colorado University course credits. For more information about college credits at Open Sky and the process for using a 529 plan or AmeriCorps voucher to pay for treatment, please contact  

Open Sky recognizes the power we hold to help guide the education and lives of the students we serve. We believe in educating the whole person – body, mind, heart, and spirit – to prepare our young people to navigate unique and urgent challenges and to positively contribute to society. 

February 1st, 2022

The Open Sky Team