WORLAND – Newly appointed Wyoming Boys School (WBS) Superintendent Dale Weber discussed changes over the past three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and budget cuts, as well as some upcoming changes in the institution for minors.
Weber said he was named superintendent about a month ago, replacing Gary Gilmore who retired at the end of 2021. Weber, who had served as assistant superintendent since 2015, said he would consider filling this position, but he has become comfortable in his new role and planning for new training.
The WBS has contracted with the Center for Gender and Justice to provide a series of trauma-informed trainings for staff. He said that ideally they’d like all campus staff to take the training, but that’s probably not realistic because staff can’t be available at the same time. They will train as many staff members who have contact with students as possible.
“This represents a big shift for us and moves us forward to best practices, which is being done nationally for best practices,” Weber said.
He said trauma-informed training is something the WBS has been considering for some time, but with budget cuts and COVID restrictions, they haven’t had the opportunity.
He said the training will take place in three phases with the first and third phase via teleconference. The second phase is a two-day on-site training, then the Center will design a program specifically tailored to the needs of Wyoming Boys School.
“They come here, they look at what we are, how we do things and design a program that is unique to us. I’m really excited about that one.”
“We’re a unique juvenile facility. We’re set up differently than most juvenile facilities,” Weber said, noting that some juvenile facilities at this level are more like a prison. The WBS has no big fences with barbed wire, no armed guards.
There is no cell but each pupil has his own room and there are never two pupils alone together.
They also have staff who develop relationships with students. “Our staff do an amazing job helping students,” he said. “People here really care about the students who come here and they really want to make a difference.”
The trauma-informed training will be a culture shift for the school, and Weber said he realizes the impact won’t be immediate.
He said staff understood the need for the training and it had become even more evident throughout the pandemic as students were mostly confined to their dorms and unable to go out into the community for research projects. service or attend classes together at Colter High School, the school at WBS.
Weber said, “When you lock up teenagers, there’s a lot of pent-up energy and frustration and anxiety.”
“We’ve seen a huge increase in aggressive behavior from our students,” he said, adding that unfortunately this resulted in “a lot of strain. It went badly for a while for our staff. I don’t Can’t say enough good things about our staff.. The fact that they took care of what they were taking care of here while taking care of everything else in regards to COVID. It amazes me the people we have here.
He said through COVID and just in general, they’ve seen an increase in mental health issues with students being tried in court for attending WBS. He said Wyoming Boys School was not a psychiatric residential treatment facility and staff were not equipped to deal with students with “significant mental health issues”.
Weber, who worked with WBS students for five years when he was a therapist at Cloud Peak Counseling, said the trauma-informed training will put staff in a better position and put them on a better footing to work with students. .
Weber said the majority of WBS students likely have some type of trauma in their past.
“It made sense for us to start becoming more educated and better able to help people with a history of trauma,” Weber said.
The training is expected to begin in June and is expected to last approximately one year.
Weber said state budget cuts in recent years have resulted in the loss of 12 positions, all through attrition. They also closed a dormitory.
He said they now have 41 students and are staffed with 60 and certified for 75.
Weber said the numbers have dropped for several reasons — COVID, agencies trying to keep minors in their own community.
Weber said with the pandemic restrictions enforced across the state, they are ramping up the off-campus programs they previously had and are looking to diversify the types of programs they can offer students.
He said they had a painting class earlier in the month, took a trip to the Washakie Museum to see one of the traveling exhibits and took an ice fishing group this year .
In the past, Weber said they used to host a baseball game with Kiwanis, shovel people’s sidewalks, and help out organizations that asked for help. He said they plan to resume most, if not all of these activities and that the staff like to come up with new ideas for students.
He said these activities only enhanced the overall changes they wanted to make at WBS and the kind of changes they wanted to see in students.
“Any kind of growth that you can help them experience is going to enhance the changes that we’re trying to make,” Weber said.
“I’m proud of what we’re doing with these kids. We’re proud of the environment we’re creating for them. For some, it’s the safest environment they’ve ever lived in,” Weber said.
Weber said several local organizations are involved in impacting the lives of students from WBS Kiwanis, the women’s group that makes a homemade quilt for every student who leaves school and the group that provided masks during the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19.