Outward Bound Intercept is a highly structured and facilitated program that replaces negative challenges of the teen years with extremely positive experiences. From 20 to 50 days long, these expeditions move through phases that focus on developing positive decision-making skills, strengthening interpersonal relationships and cultivating a positive self-image. At the end of the course, students and their families are reunited for a family conference where they have an opportunity to reconnect, share in lessons learned and make a plan for moving forward once everyone is back home.
Compassionate Instructors of the Intercept program help students and parents find a healthy sense of boundaries so families interact more effectively with one another and the world around them. We recently sat down with one experienced Intercept Instructor, Steve Furbush of North Carolina Outward Bound School (NCOBS), who shared his thoughts on the program. Steve is currently the Course Director for a co-ed Intercept course for students ages 12-13.
What is your background and how did you get involved with Outward Bound?
Steve Furbush: I joined Outward Bound as an Instructor in September of 2015. Since my start, I have worked as an Instructor on several courses with at-risk youth.
I joined Outward Bound as an Instructor in September of 2015. Since my start, I have worked as an Instructor on several courses with at-risk youth.
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Adolescent Education and History. Originally, my game plan was to become a High School Social Studies teacher. Throughout my education, I discovered that my passion to work with students outweighed my desire to teach a specific subject matter. I have all of the respect in the world for teachers and know it is a very difficult job that takes a lot of skill. I ended up realizing that the work I wanted to do with students couldn’t happen in a classroom. I had a friend working down in Florida who knew of my interest in working with struggling youth. At this time in my life, I wanted to do something so out of my comfort zone, something like taking at-risk teenagers canoeing in the woods for 20 days. That terrified me, and I liked it. Taking that leap of faith, which scared me and made me uncomfortable, is what Outward Bound is all about. I am incredibly grateful for the work that I get to do for this organization and for the staff that make it possible. We are definitely a passionate group, especially in the at-risk world. The people that stick around for this kind of work have a ton of patience, compassion and grit.
Can you tell us more about Intercept students and where they are from?
SF: I have seen a lot of diversity in our Intercept students. Students come from all over the nation – the West, Northeast, South, Midwest and a few from Florida where our Intercept Florida Canoeing courses are based. Although it’s rare, students can also come from all over the world! Diversity is important because the students each bring their unique experience to the group, allowing them to share in commonalities as well as learn to celebrate each other’s differences. An activity we do on some courses is called “Cross the Line,” and after reading a statement, if it is true for that student, they cross a line drawn and see who in the group is the same or differs. The whole activity is done in silence and it’s a great way for students to learn from one other. In one group I instructed recently we discovered that seven out of the 11 students on course were adopted, which was huge to be able to have them share in that experience.
Intercept courses create an environment for digging deep into diversity and inclusion. As Instructors, we create a physically and emotionally safe environment for students so they can feel comfortable opening up to strangers in this new environment. These strangers become family. Students can open up to people like they never have before, sometimes even more than the closest people in their lives. It’s a very powerful, chilling moment to see students bonding and learning from each other. Each group is different; some students are open books and some take longer to open up. The course is highly structured, but we allow time and flexibility for connection to happen naturally.
Since our students can be so diverse, they also get practice communicating and working with people they don’t always agree with. This translates to practicing communication with family members or other individuals in their lives that have different perspectives from their own.
Explain what it means when Intercept is said to be for “struggling teens and their families.”
SF: Intercept courses are designed for struggling teenagers, but it’s a family process. Intercept courses are unique in that each course ends with a three-day family seminar where parents re-join their child and have a crash course with the lessons students were taught while on course. The parents are informed how their child did, and in turn, we also teach the parents all of the tools students are taught while out on an expedition. While the student is away, the family learns in parallel throughout the course, in preparation for the family seminar.
One anger management tool we use is called “Step Back.” We use this when a student is frustrated with a situation, and it allows them to take time away and employ positive coping skills. Let’s say a student gets frustrated with another student when they are setting up a tent, and we ask the student to take a step back and take time away from the situation. Spending time away could mean doing some physical exercise, breathing techniques or even breaking sticks. When they’ve calmed down and can face the situation, they will re-join the group and announce to the group what was up, why they were frustrated and their plan in handling it moving forward. We teach these types of tools to the parents also. After the course, anyone in the household can have that common language and say, “I’m going to take a step back, take time away from the situation and come back and be assertive in how I communicate and what I want moving forward.”
When the student is on expedition, they have to face all of their issues. They’re with this small group of people for 20-28 days, and when things happen out in the wilderness we have to deal with them. The group cannot function at their best if issues go unresolved or the group cannot communicate assertively with each other. A communication tool we use is called “CFR,” which stands for Concern, Feeling and Request. We hold our students to high communication standards on course so they can practice running through these CFRs with each other and being assertive on the expedition. Again, parents are taught these same tools students are learning on course, and they can work through the same communication tools and strategies which allows them to hold each other accountable to assertive communication when dealing with an issue at home.
For someone new to Outward Bound, how would you explain an Intercept expedition and how it differs from other programs?
SF: Intercept is a special program from Outward Bound for teenagers who are really struggling at home and/or in school, making poor choices and need a course correction of sorts, in their life. Intercept students need a lot of support on their course and at home to continue to carry out the communication, problem-solving and decision-making skills they practiced on their course. Intercept courses are for families looking for assistance in making positive changes for the child and the entire family.
Classic expeditions are best suited for highly motivated students looking to take on challenges and grow as a person. On a Classic expedition, students get the full Outward Bound experience. They face challenges and learn to push themselves beyond what they knew they were capable of. While an Intercept expedition also includes the wilderness ‘experience’ such as learning technical skills like flat water canoeing, cooking over a fire, knots and camp craft, there is so much more we get to do! Intercept students will spend time learning and practicing new tools focused on assertive communication, anger management, conflict resolution, decision-making, goal-setting, and building self-esteem and healthy relationships with family, friends and peers.
Every component on our Intercept courses has an application to home. Instructors focus heavily on the transference of the skills they learned on the expedition and apply those to not only the student’s life at home, but the entire family. Outward Bound’s goal is to help students and their parents achieve insight into themselves and mastery of some of these skills, which will allow maximum transference to occur. It can be frustrating when a student goes through an intense learning experience but the people closest to them have not. Intercept courses are intentionally designed to bring those people in. This allows family members to continue to provide the support that our Intercept students often need.
On an Intercept course there is a strong emphasis on working on the behaviors and issues that led students to being enrolled in the Intercept Program. Students work with their Instructors during the first week of the course to create a personalized Achievement Plan. The Achievement Plan is based on needs identified by the student and parents through the student’s application and an initial interview conducted by an Instructor within the first few days of course. The student’s Achievement Plan focuses on three goals, with each goal having a number of specific steps aimed at helping the student learn new tools to help with specific needs.
Tell us about the three-day family seminar at the end of the Intercept expedition.
SF: The family seminar starts with a meeting where the Instructors have an opportunity to teach the attending family members all of the tools and successful practices they used throughout the course. The following day is when the parents will re-join their child for a family conference. This is when they sit down with an Instructor and have a conversation regarding what issues brought the student on course and what plans they can set up for the student to be successful at home. The conferences are specific to the needs of that student and their family, so each one has a different focus. They can focus on topics such as relationship-building, how the family deals with conflict, or setting up a system of positive and negative consequences regarding the student’s expectations at home. Parents and their children are not supposed to forgive and forget based on course completion, rather they address behaviors and work towards restoring trust in their relationship in order to successfully move forward. The goal of the conversation is that they will continue to find ways to work together beyond this conference. One way this happens is through a paper that’s signed by the student and family that is essentially everything that was discussed during the conference. The family commits to re-assessing how everything’s working after the course, usually two weeks post expedition. Details are decided by the family as each situation is different.
On the final day, students complete a Personal Challenge Event. This is usually a long-distance run. The student then officially graduates, but their Outward Bound experience and the lessons they learned will continue to grow well beyond crossing that finish line.
After the course, there is no specific involvement of follow-up from Outward Bound Instructors. However, I’ve had some students reach out and ask for recommendations for applying to college or a job!
What do Instructors hope their students learn while on a course?
SF: Instructors hope that students will learn to communicate assertively, to manage their emotions appropriately, how to build positive relationships, how to identify the choices they make and realize the consequences of their actions, whether positive or negative.
We believe that it is important to let the students know that they are more than the behavior they exhibit. They are wonderful and unique people who may need guidance and support at this point in their lives. We empower them through building their confidence up and believing in them. By giving them tools and strategies, our hope is that they are able to experience many successes while at Outward Bound, and that upon returning home they are able to channel some of this newfound confidence into their schoolwork, family relationships and any challenge they may face in their lives.
What kind of training do the Instructors have for Intercept courses?
SF: We are certified as Wilderness First Responders, and participate in Outward Bound training for how to work with at-risk teens. We are also taught techniques of non-violent physical restraints from the Crisis Prevention Institute, motivational interviewing skills and trauma-informed care strategies for how to set up a safe and consistent structure for teenagers who have experience trauma in their past. Each Instructor also brings the personal skillset they have. I have a background in teaching, so I am trained and feel comfortable engaging students and teaching lessons. It’s important that every Intercept Instructor that works for Outward Bound has a passion for working with this population.
What would you say to a parent who is considering the Intercept program but isn’t sure about signing their child up for a course?
SF: Your child will meet numerous challenges and gain valuable insights while at Outward Bound. The Intercept program is designed to encourage introspection, build self-esteem and develop a sense of responsibility in youth.
If your family can commit to this experience and the possibility of making positive, lasting changes, this could be an experience of a lifetime. Even when parents are sitting at home filling out that parent workbook while their child is on a course, it causes them to reflect on the tumultuous years that spurred them to even think about signing up for this course. Their child will have similar times of reflection and introspection while in the wilderness. The opportunity for their child can be a really great experience for everyone involved – the child, parent and whole family.
We are a compassion-based organization. We do not ‘fix’ individuals or families. We look at the family as a system, offer a new and realistic perspective, provide an adventurous and challenging experiences and teach tools and techniques to help students work on their unhealthy behaviors. They are offered a fresh start in which trust is earned, responsibilities are increased gradually and freedoms are granted accordingly.
Short-term benefits of going on an Intercept expedition include the student and family having a plan and new structure moving forward, after the course has ended. The student walks away with new confidence and strategies to deal with problems. Parents will have more tools to deal with problems and can speak the same language with their child in terms of communication tools and strategies.
Long-term benefits include the family having a better sense of how to stay solution-oriented when dealing with problems. They can recognize that change doesn’t come from one person in the household; it involves looking at individual actions and revisiting things that need to be changed or adapted as people grow and evolve.
Is there anything you want a student and his/her family to know before attending an Intercept expedition?
SF: Parents should know this will challenge their child. It’s going to be tough and it’s supposed to be. Intercept is NOT summer camp, it’s an expedition. We are going to work with every child and it’s going to involve commitment from the beginning. Students will be challenged and forced to push themselves, which can be a really powerful thing for a teenager. They learn that they are important and needed, and that their individual actions affect their entire team. Instructors are going to set up a course where they can feel both failures and success as a group. Students will push themselves beyond what they knew they were capable of, and they will also learn to overcome failure, learn from it and try again.This is a cool, unique environment for a young adult to be in. They don’t have their family or friends or whatever it is they think they need in their lives. Phones and technology are completely taken away. They can write letters back home, but they don’t have that immediate access to others outside their Outward Bound ‘bubble.’ It’s all stripped away so students are forced to rely on and learn through the wilderness, each other and themselves.
Outward Bound Intercept expeditions take place throughout the year. An upcoming Intercept Florida Canoeing course, 20 to 28-days long, starts as early as July 25th. Contact us at 866.467.7651 to learn more information.