Posts By: Elena French

Caring for kids – reflecting on 2017

Posted on January 23, 2018. Category: WCS News

At Waterford Country School, we talk a LOT about our agency model (The Children And Residential Experiences: Creating Conditions for Change (CARE)).  It brings us together as a team.bright orange red blue CARE logo Cornell university child and residential experiences practice model It makes us feel, as one staff member said “I don’t work at Waterford Country School, I am a part of Waterford Country School.” At the end of a year, the Leadership Team takes the time to reflect on the last year and the moments we’ve had, the struggles we’ve pulled through and the successful moments we’ve witnessed with our children and families. We take just a few of these “moments” and share them for our mutual encouragement. Here are just some of our “CARE moments” in 2017.


A 6 year old in our Foster Care program was having a particularly rough day. Couldn’t stand to be in the car, was starting to act out in dangerous ways and was eventually taken to the ER to be assessed. There was hours and hours of waiting as staff and foster parents stayed with the young boy…but the amazing thing was watching another child in therapeutic foster care, the child’s foster sister, be the ONLY person who could compassionately calm and encourage the young boy. This foster teen, who had a lot of struggles of her own, was absolutely the presence of stability in those moments of crisis.  A beautiful example of how relationship matters. The bond that helped in a time of crisis was not even between staff and child or parent and child but between one struggling child to another.  #CAREmoment


portrait of boy in football uniform playing with the team determined to playThe short term Shelter program noticed that one of their boys came off the bus in football pads, helmet and gear. Knowing the background of this homeless teen who had come their way, they thought this was strange. After a call to the school, they found out that he was not on the football team (as they suspected) but was so eager to play football that he dressed the part to and from school. Instead of trying to convince this teen that this was not realistic, WCS staff saw this as an opportunity to reach him. They organized football drills outside at the Shelter, getting other teens involved and encouraging peer interaction through sports. One day the young man did not come back on the bus as he was supposed to. A WCS staff member drove out to the school to search for him. He found the teen, dressed in full gear, playing with a group of kids from school, some of whom were football players. Where once there would have been a punishment for not getting on the bus and returning to the shelter… instead the staff member stayed and watched, letting him play for quite a while. He knew he was seeing personal success, for this was a teen who previously had no peer group – playing football and interacting well with a group of kids. After a while the staff member went out and encouraged him, ran some plays with him and emphasized all that he had done well that day. This teen boy eventually went home to a relative but his interest and determination to play football gave us some valuable moments, short term care can still build growth, self-confidence and success if we take the time.   #CAREmoment #sheltersuccess


red tailed hawk leather glove release day wildlife rehabilitationThe Outdoor Education Director remembers the day a wounded Red Tailed Hawk was released. The healing that takes place for children in our programs can often be mirrored by the rehabilitation of our injured animals. “We do as much for animals here as we do for kids, there aren’t too many places like that around,” says the Outdoor Ed Director. He remembers the student who was interning on the Farm/Wildlife Program being right by his side for the hawk’s release day. To see a child who has been really struggling care for an animal throughout it’s healing process and then watch it fly again, returning to it’s natural environment, it’s a good reminder of why we do what we do. #CAREmoment #wildliferehabilitation #natureheals


In our Children’s Mental Health Clinic there was a child who desperately needed help but adamantly refused to come in to the Clinic to work with a therapist. Not willing to let location stop this child from healing, the therapist went to the child’s home and met with her. This willingness to work with the family and meet the child where she was, eventually changed the outcome of the child’s behavior. It wasn’t long before the child was able to come into the Clinic and meet with her therapist to continue treatment. #CAREmoment


In our Residential Treatment program a teen girl was having a particularly rough day emotionally. After getting the invite to sample some food at an office potluck in Human Resources, the Residential Supervisor invited the teen along to give her a break and take a walk. When the Supervisor and teen visited the Human Resources office, they met the Director of Staff Support. He initiated a friendly conversation with the teenager and she was particularly interested to find that he was the one who brought in the crockpot full of chili, she LOVED chili. She wanted all the details. Who made it, how was it made, what was in the recipe. Student and staff bonded over their love of a good bowl of chili that day. As the time went on, they smiled and chatted whenever they saw each other around campus. Although they were in completely different places at Waterford Country School most of the time, they had made a connection. When he found out she was going to be leaving the residential program on a definitive date, much to her surprise he brought her a very special bowl of chili to say goodbye and good luck. She and the residential staff were touched by his ability to make a connection and make a teenager feel like she was listened to and cared for. #CAREmoment


The Therapeutic Boarding School program noted how the CARE approach allowed new students to settle in. One of their first students came in very angry, with his parents and life in general. He was so angry and unwilling to accept this new environment that he shoved his bag under a chair and wouldn’t unpack anything. He refused to let staff buy him anything, whether it was for his new room or his birthday. He just did NOT want to be a part of this new environment. Slowly, staff members noticed his artistic interest and talent. They watched as he started making special artwork for other kids or staff. They encouraged his artistic skill by giving him a wall project in the residence hall recreation room. He was asked to design, plan and paint his own wall mural for the space. He eventually unpacked his bag as he realized, no one was going to make him conform to a certain set of rules here. His individuality was still intact and it was okay to be expressed. He found a place to belong.  #CAREmoment


The Development office saw how CARE changed the way staff and children interact in a big way. One night after hours some students broke into the Development Office and messed with the Receptionist’s desk and supplies. The Receptionist was upset and anxious after the incident as it left her feeling unsafe in her environment and hurt. A Supervisor in the residential program called a meeting and to have a conversation with the teens who were at fault. The teenagers and residential staff and the Receptionist sat down together. She was able to share with the teens how their actions affected her, giving her a safe place to express herself. They were able to see what they had done in a different light and apologized to her in person. What could have been a situation of escalated punishments and hard feelings turned into a real life moment of airing emotions and resolving a conflict. Such amazing personal success for our staff and children to work through. #CAREmoment


Our Food Service workers in the cafeteria noticed that one of the students was constantly taking plastic spoons and chewing on them. Upon investigation, they found that he was hoarding them because the movement of chewing on the plastic spoon was stress relieving for him. They were still concerned that the plastic spoon would break and cut or harm him so after thinking about it, they came up with a solution. They offered the child some plastic straws to have as his own. What a great compromise to both ensure the child’s safety but respect his need to use his coping skill. #CAREmoment


In our Adoption program interacting with families is key. In this case last year, 4 siblings were looking to be african american sibling group of four adoption story siblings reunited and adopted into one familyreunited and adopted into one home. Many pre-adoptive homes were screened and considered, our Adoption Social Worker went out to visit 3 possible families and chose the one he thought would best fit the siblings. However their biological father was opposed to this home and the adoption. Rather than give up or ignore the biological father’s input, our Adoption Social Worker met with the father. He spent hours of time befriending him, talking to him about his opinion, educating him on how the adoption process and what it would look like. Eventually this biological dad gave his permission and the 4 siblings were brought together in one forever home. The hours of care and time that the social worker put into working with the dad made a lasting impact on this case and for the future of the four children. #CAREmoment #foreverfamily


In our Summer Camp program the camp director was struck by how CARE mentality had changed not just the staff but the students who graduated. This summer the one of the Camp Interns (an older or former student who is working as a Jr. Counselor) who was with the 11 & 12 year old campers made the realization that these are “tough kids” very much like he was when he started at Waterford Country School. He saw a lot of himself in them and became a very involved, caring and compassionate part of the Camp staff. It was amazing to see a young person grow in maturity and self reflection during his time as a student at Waterford Country School.  #CAREmoment


Of course there are countless stories every day of how we use the principles of CARE in our approach to children and each other. For more information on how the CARE Model can change the outcome for children in residential and congruent care settings, visit Cornell University’s Residential Child Care Project research and publications. 

“Work hard, play hard, learn hard” – Graduation 2017

Posted on June 23, 2017. Category: Uncategorized, WCS News

2017 graduation and awards ceremony at waterford country schoolOn June 16, 2017 the Otto Graham Gymnasium was packed full. Over 25o people were there to watch the Waterford Country School Awards and Graduation ceremony. With the 60 kids from the Levine Education Center (the ‘school’ at Waterford Country School) looking on and cheering, numerous awards were given, each of the 6 Seniors was given the opportunity to say a few words and special guest speakers commemorated the day.

Sharon Butcher, WCS School Principal, said “When people find out I work at Waterford country School they inevitably say, wow, that must cap and gown decorated for high school graduation ceremonybe hard work! Some days its hard, but most days it’s great. This is the fun part. Today I am SO proud of these students…your children.” After calling all the staff to stand and be recognized as part of the team that makes WCS great…awards were given out to all the Lower School (K-5) and Upper School (6-12th grade) students. Awards like “Good sportsmanship,” “Extra-Ordinary Effort,” “Acts of Kindness,” “Class Olympian,” “Word Wizard,” “Creativity in Writing,” “Music Enthusiasm”, “Most Improved,” “Industrial Arts”and “School Spirit” just to name a few. Vice Principal, Pam Giannelli, broke into the programming to shout out some “I Caught You’s” which were unique things she caught students doing over the year. Things like antique bottlecapping, peer mentoring, creating a lunch delivery service, impersonating staff, recycling, and impressive records for scrabble, dodgeball, basketball and the walking challenge (One student walked 51 miles in the month of May…the highest record in walking challenge history!) If you think this kind of recognition is strange, think again. Waterford Country School touts the motto “Where Everybody is Somebody” and nowhere is it more evident than a day like awards day. When everyone gets recognized because they each have unique strengths and obstacles they’ve overcome. We celebrate each of our students and their success.

senior poses with high school diploma at commencement ceremonyEmotional Seniors gave speeches thanking their families and the those who supported them through their school career. Nick said “When I came here 7 years ago, I was a defiant little punk with no dreams or aspirations. Here…I’ve made family.” Eric wrote “For 5 years, WCS was the place I called home.” CJ greeted the crowd with “Konichiwa!” and called 2 special teachers up on the stage “I bought you presents!” Ryan talked about looking back and being shocked to realize that “For a kid who had such distrust for everyone, I genuinely connected with staff here…developed family-like bonds.” Ashley state matter of factly “I didn’t see myself finishing high school” but credited the support and love and security she found at Waterford Country School. “Thanks for the pep talks, even when I rolled my eyes!” She echoed what many of the other Seniors realized, “Obstacles can’t stop you, problems can’t stop you, other people can’t stop you, the only one who can stop you is yourself. Thank you for believing in me.”

proud african american female in white cap and gown at graduation ceremonyGuest speaker, Danny Miller, spoke about being a former WCS student, struggling with a learning disability and behavioral problems. He told the students “overcoming obstacles is a lifelong pursuit…you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.” Danny recalled stories of his time at WCS and the obstacles he faced in his academic life. Humbly, he recognized how much the skills and strategies he learned spurred him on to the place he is now, just completing a Master’s in Social Work degree. What he considers his “greatest achievement.” He encouraged the class of 2017, “Barriers do not limit your potential to achieve. It takes perseverance and determination.”

“We work hard, play hard and learn hard at Waterford Country School,” claims Sharon Butcher. It’s evident from the  overwhelming feeling of hope and pride that filled the gymnasium, Waterford Country School is not just dispensing knowledge to its students but strengthening children and families that desperately need compassionate care.

Congratulations Class of 2017!

For more information about our private special education school, visit the Special Education Page

Bring Your Mojo 2017 is HERE!

Posted on June 20, 2017. Category: Uncategorized, WCS News

7th annual bring your mojo golf tournament in memory of gary saunders to be held at great neck country club in waterford all proceeds to benefit waterford country school






Waterford Country School’s Golf Committee enthusiastically invites you to the 7th Annual “Bring Your Mojo” Golf Tournament on Thursday, Sept. 14th at the Great Neck Country Club in Waterford.

This is not your average fundraising tournament! The Bring Your Mojo Golf Tournament has become a SOLD OUT event! Each year there are new surprises as well as enthusiastic additions to the committee. This year Waterford Country School’s Golf Committee welcomes Maxwell Satti (ACE Hardware) and Gary Upton (UP Fitness) to the energetic planning team. The tournament is held in memory of founding family member, Gary Saunders, who passed away suddenly on Jan. 27, 2011. Bill Stanley from L and M Hospital takes a swing as one of the golfers for the Bring Your Mojo charity golf tournament to benefit waterford country school As a founding family member, Gary believed in Waterford Country School’s mission of doing “Whatever It Takes” to enrich the lives of children and families with specialized needs. Spurred on by Gary’s life and legacy, the Golf Tournament has raised over $250,000 since its inception! The funds raised helped Waterford Country School to finish Phase 1 of the Otto Graham Gymnasium and fully fund the Gary Saunders Fitness Center inside the gym. This year our goal is to fund the completion of the gymnasium which will include a large classroom for WCS kids, a kitchen, staff/family meeting room and the entryway. We can do it with your support!

Tournament day check-in begins at 11:30 a.m. with a Shotgun Start at 12:30 p.m.  Entrance fees are $166 per player, and include lunch, 18 holes of golf, greens fees, cart fees, as well as a steak and lobster dinner.  The annual golf event also features over 50 raffle items.happy golfers at great neck country club for the annual bring your mojo charity golf tournament to benefit waterford country school

The golf committee is seeking event sponsors, golfers and general supporters. All proceeds will benefit programs and services at Waterford Country School, located in Quaker Hill.  Last year, more than 120 golfers participated and raised over $70,000.  If you are interested in being a Sponsor or Golfer in the tournament, please contact the Development Office at 860.442.9454 or


Summer Camp 2017 Enrolling NOW!

Posted on June 19, 2017. Category: WCS News

camp cuheca is a therapeutic summer day camp for kids in connecticutSummer is finally upon us! There’s still some time to enroll your child in Camp Cuheca’s summer camping experience! Last year we expanded our camp to 50 campers per week while still maintaining a high ratio of staff to campers. Our goal is to keep our campers having fun and engaged in animal therapy and outdoor adventures all day! Waterford Country School’s 300 acre woodland campus boasts trails, tent campsites, lakes, a farm, a wildlife rehab center, exotic animal center and staff and counselors that are trained to help every child succeed.

Check out the video from Camp Cuheca 2016,  pick the week(s) that work for you and get that paperwork in!!! Camper spots are limited!

Find all the information you need to enroll your child at Camp Cuheca on theh Summer Camp page. See the Camp Cuheca page here. 

Country for a Cause – See Jason Aldean on May 19th!

Posted on May 4, 2017. Category: WCS News

Rock out AND support your favorite cause!

You’re invited! On May 19th, Jason Aldean will perform at Mohegan Sun Arena. We have a limited number of Skybox tickets available for this night of music and fun! For only $175 per person, you receive your concert ticket, food, beer and wine in a luxury skybox AND knowing that all the proceeds make a difference for children and families at Waterford Country School!!!! Don’t miss it! We thank you for your support!

Contact the Development office to purchase tickets: 860.442.9454 or

Jason Aldean fundraiser to benefit Waterford Country School skybox tickets for may 19 show

Introducing Hunts Brook Academy!

Posted on May 4, 2017. Category: Uncategorized

Waterford Country School is proud to announce the launch of a new program. Hunts Brook Academy is an alternative education program for middle school age boys. The Hunts Brook therapeutic boarding school program is designed for families with children who have social, emotional or behavioral challenges and are seeking an environment that fosters positive behavioral change. The goal is to create a pattern of successful and positive experiences for our students as they live and learn on our beautiful campus.

This is an exciting new venture for us. We believe all that we have learned through the CARE model and our success using it will be a huge benefit to other struggling families. To find out more about this new venture visit:

Our first Hunts Brook Open House is coming up soon. Join us on May 31st from 9-4pm!!! Email for more information.

Kabaret For Kids 2017 is HERE!

Posted on January 19, 2017. Category: WCS News

Tickets are on sale NOW for the 13th annual Kabaret for Kids Gala.

Don’t miss this one of a kind event featuring a spectacular musical performance by Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s Young Fellows Program. Special performances by Braiden Sunshine (The Voice) and Brad Simmons (Young Fellows Program Director, musical director and peformer). Order your ticket online and find out all the details of this special night on the Kabaret for Kids page.


A Community of CARE

Posted on October 13, 2016. Category: WCS News

On October 6th and 7th Waterford Country School hosted Martha Holden from table-listenersCornell University’s Residential Child Care Project and author of the (CARE) model. The Residential Child Care Project has been invited to over 40 states, Canada, Puerto Rico, Russia, Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom with its ongoing programs to prevent institutional child abuse and improve the quality of residential childcare. The widely disseminated Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI) System is used in hundreds of residential child care institutions an d has also been adapted for other congregate care settings, as well as for foster and adoptive families. The Children and Residential Experiences (CARE) project implements and evaluates a program model based on a set of research-based principles to help child care agencies re-align their organizational practices around the best interests of children.


Waterford Country School is very fortunate to be one of the first agencies in the country to experience Cornell sharon-butcherUniversity’s new Children and Residential Experiences (CARE) Program.  CARE is a “best practice” model that creates conditions for change for youth in congregate care. We have been involved with Cornell since we adopted the Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI) Program in 1994.  TCI is a comprehensive program designed to guide staff in their working with youth during a crisis.  100% of our direct care, clinical, education and administrative staff are trained in this model.


Released in 2008, CARE is a brilliantly crafted framework for children in out of home care based upon a thorough review of the literature and research.  It identifies six ray-johnson-and-spurwinkprincipal domains of treatment and builds a set of guidelines for staff around these domains.  The CARE framework meets each child where they are developmentally and helps guide them to an enhanced level of functioning.  The model is built upon the premise that children do well if they can. This framework charges staff to find what contributes to a child’s developmental disruption and to address those issues to get them back on track.

CARE emphasizes the importance of a congruent approach on all levels and across all persons, the youth in care, their families and the staff.  All WCS staff whether they are direct care workers or administrative staff are trained in the CARE model to keep the agency’s approach consistent. In 2009 we adopted the CARE model as our agency model and became trained by Martha Holden, Tom Endres and Jack Holden from the Cornell Residential Child Care Project.  We were then given the ability to provide our own CARE trainers so that everyone in the agency was part of this new way of operation. Since then, every new staff member has been trained in CARE.  We have learned about the importance of shifting rules to expectations, moving from control to order, being flexible in our expectations, and shifting from consistency across children to consistency within children. It has completely changed our outlook from being “crisis oriented” to being “relationship oriented”. Our physical restraint percentage has been drastically reduced while our relationships with the kids we work with has improved. We have had such success with the CARE approach that we are now asked to share our journey with others.

Ohappy-listenerOctober 7th, 2016 Waterford Country School hosted nine agencies and Martha Holden for a Community of Practice Event. Martha presented updates on CARE and answered questions. Each agency was given time to share their own journey to CARE. The attendees broke into focus group discussions on how to bring CARE or continue rolling out the model in their own agencies. It was a wonderful day for us to reflect on how far we’ve come. Our Agency now has the direction that it has sought for so long.  CARE is our framework for treatment and our guide for providing the highest level of services for our youth and their families.  We are so inspired by the changes we’ve seen and hope to encourage others to their own success.

Many thanks to Martha Holden from Cornell University, The Brandon School, Children’s Home, Community Health Resources, Hillside Family of Agencies, Martin De Porres School, Spurwink, Sweetser, and The Village for attending this CARE community event at Waterford Country School.

WCS Awarded Top Workplace Award in 2016!

Posted on September 30, 2016. Category: WCS News


Waterford Country School is proud to be chosen one of the region’s Top Workplaces in 2016! There are lots of ways to measure a workplace, The Hartford Courant believes that the best way is by asking the employees themselves.  In 2016, 975 organizations in Hartford, Middlesex, Tolland, Windham and New London counties were nominated. Workplace Dynamics, LLP a research firm sent surveys to 25,169 employees at participating organizations, and 16,208 responded. The survey questions asked about workplace ethics, communication, opportunity for growth, leadership and staff support. The specific criteria met rigorous standards and 61 out of the original 975 were awarded Top Workplace in 2016.

To celebrate the award, WCS staff and leadership attended a dinner on September 15th at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville, CT.  7 of Waterford Country School’s staff were able to attend the awards dinner. Dennis Fields, WCS Supervisor remarked, “Being recognized as one of the top workplaces in Connecticut was rewarding. It also motivated me to be a part of the push we need that will take us to becoming the #1 work place in our area. To see the people that received that top honor… it was incredible.”


“This award is truly reflective of the amazing group of staff we have here at WCS,” credits Executive Director, Bill Martin.

The employers that you see in Top Workplace 2016 are all winners. We are proud to be acknowledged for what we already know…the Waterford Country School family is a great place to be.

An emotional Graduation Day

Posted on July 8, 2016. Category: WCS News

DSC_0385Before he could get a word out, one graduating Senior, started by warning the audience “This is emotional for me…” Looking around the gymnasium filled with Waterford Country School staff, families, kids, founding family members, caregivers, special advocates, DCF workers, foster families and friends…it was obviously emotional for everyone. Not a dry eye in the room.

What do you say about kids who come to a special school with incredibly tough backgrounds, both personally and academically? What do you do when you realize without this little school with about 70 kids nestled in the woods of Quaker Hill, these 3 young adults would not be holding diplomas and moving on into young adulthood with success? You find yourself getting emotional.  The Director of the WCS Residential Treatment Program, Emily Thomson says, “It’s pretty remarkable…coming in, you see a child who doesn’t want to be here…and you get to watch them grow right before your eyes.” On June 16th, awards were handed out for achievement in the lower school, 8th grade graduates were recognized and the 3 high school graduates received their diplomas. You could see how proud they were and how close they had become as a group as younger children hugged and congratulated their older peers.DSC_0228

The beaming smile that never left graduating Senior Magan Alejandro’s face all through the procession, ceremony and picture-taking says it all. “Magan is incredibly resilient, she is a young lady now, she advocates for herself, she knows what she wants and she’s going after it.” From her time in the WCS Residential program to the Therapeutic Foster Care Program and her year with us at the Special Education Progam…”She’s a success story. We hope she comes back in a few years and speaks to our kids.”

DSC_0243On hand to watch Magan and the other graduates were her mom, foster parents, DCF worker, a CT judge and founding family member Herb Schacht (at 93 years young!).  She invited everyone who played a part in her arrival at this momentous day…and they came. Over 250 people came to give testimony to the work that WCS endeavors to do. Shaking hands with WCS Executive Director, Bill Martin, to receive her diploma you could hear Magan exhale excitedly, “We did it!” To which he replied “No…you did it.” Our deepest congratulations to the 3 graduating Seniors. We are so proud of who you are and how far you have come.

“This day shows the spirit of Waterford Country School, that we CAN help kids.”


For more information about the WCS Special Education Program visit this page.