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Thursday, Feb 6, 2014

A difficult decision pays off

“The decision to place our son at a residential school was the hardest decision we have made as parents – and the hardest decision that our son had to live with,” says Christine Thorbjornsen, whose 16-year old son was enrolled in Berkshire’s Twombly Leadership Academy and attends Berkshire Jr./Sr. High School. “But I have to say that it was the best decision we ever made as a family. After a year in Berkshire’s program,’ she explained, “Michael went from hating school, failing most of his classes, and wanting to drop out, to making the honor roll and being determined to attend college!”

“Before Berkshire,” says Mrs. Thorbjornsen, “Michael was so distressed about attending school that he lashed out at home and made the family dynamic unbearable for himself and all of us around him. Community supports were limited at best and we were all frustrated that we couldn’t help him.”

That frustration escalated for the entire family as their son endured a number of programs that she says did nothing to alleviate his school phobia or social anxiety.

image“Today, he is a much happier member of our family and has greatly improved his relationship with his sister.” Crediting Berkshire for the turnaround, Mrs. Thorbjornsen pointed out the consistent messages the students receive from teachers and staff at school and on the campus. Berkshire Farm Center and Berkshire High School work together as “One Berkshire,” ensuring that the messages, rules, and expectations are the same throughout the school and residential cottages.

“Michael needed that consistency,” she explained. “The staff in both settings took time to really get to know who our son was rather than just look at a label in a file. They refused to see Michael as just his misbehavior, but rather understood him as a child with negative behaviors. Their goal was to figure out what was bothering him in order to help him.”

This all took some time, she says. “They proved to be more stubborn than Michael. They never gave up on him and he finally learned not to give up on himself. He learned to believe in himself.”

Mrs. Thorbjornsen says a big part of the success was teamwork between Michael’s teachers, campus staff, and his clinician. “The positive supports given to our son regularly and consistently helped him to see that anyone can have a bad day but that you can always turn things around and start each day off new and with a sense of hope.” And that, she says was the biggest thing that Berkshire gave her son.

“Berkshire gave him hope to see that there would be more good days in his life; that his family would forgive him and get past those bleak days; that he is a valued member of society and important in the lives of others.”

At school, the IT Essentials class in the Cisco Networking Academy, part of Berkshire’s Workforce Development Program, is preparing him to gain certification that will be the foundation for a career in Information Technology and will qualify him for an entry level position in the IT field. However, Michael plans to continue his education, which will prepare him for a more advanced position.

Michael is learning how to build computers from scratch, how to troubleshoot and fix common problems, and how to replace components. He will also learn about operating systems, networking, laptops, and handheld devices. IT Essentials teacher Daniel Horst says Michael came to the class with a lot of knowledge about computers and he continues to refine and expand that knowledge. “Michael has tremendous potential to start his own business in the IT field or bring great benefit to an existing company,” said Mr. Horst. “In fact, he keeps me on my toes, trying to stay ahead of him!”

Michael is also working at the school through Berkshire’s Workforce Development Program. He is earning his own money. He is learning the responsibility of being part of a work setting and is now feeling the self-worth that comes from having a job.

“We will be forever grateful for our son’s time at Berkshire,” Mrs. Thorbjornsen says, “and all of the tools that they have given him to be successful in his life. We will also be grateful to the wonderful and caring staff who have been a part of our son’s life. They are truly special people.”

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