Our History

Little Keswick School Founders: Robert and Elizabeth Wilson

Since its founding in 1963 by Robert and Elizabeth Wilson, Little Keswick School has provided a quality education for boys nine to seventeen years old who have special needs. Located on twenty-five pastoral acres adjacent to the scenic Southwest Mountains just seven miles from Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, the School features quality academic and social/emotional programs within a relaxed home-like atmosphere providing the warmth, structure, and security a child needs in order to mature.

Boys Therapeutic Boarding School

When the Wilsons opened their first summer camp in 1963, they didn’t have a long-range plan for operating a special education school. That first summer, five boys received help with study skills and habits and participated in horseback riding, canoeing, and camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains. After three years of offering a summer camp, a group of parents asked Bob and Libby if they would offer a winter program. Over forty years later, Little Keswick School is a nationally recognized year-round therapeutic boarding school for thirty boys with learning, behavioral and emotional issues.

Special education for ED - boys with educational disabilities

The first students literally boarded in the Wilson’s home; but as the number of students grew, farm cottages were renovated into dormitories and classrooms. Meals were served family-style in the “Main House” kitchen/dining area, until the Keswick Depot was added to the school’s campus in 1995. The addition of facilities, like the Depot dining hall and a gymnasium, has not changed the family atmosphere at Little Keswick. After driving down the tree-lined driveway, visitors often remark on how they feel they are coming to a home, not just a school.

Aerial Campus View Shows River and Horse Riding Area at this therapeutic boarding school for boysView Aerial Image (directly above) as PDF

As one parent said, "You and your staff have glued our family back together with a much tighter bond than I ever thought possible. We are happier and closer and stronger than we have ever been. And look at our son—what he has accomplished and how far he has come! To say it is miraculous seems trite. We have LKS to thank for this."

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Our Mission

Special education for LD - boys with learning disabilities

Little Keswick School’s philosophy of education encompasses both academic and social/emotional growth for each individual student. Recognizing that every child has his own individual capabilities, the child’s environment is structured in order that he is able to achieve his potential growth through the development of a positive self-concept. Emphasis is placed on self-respect and respect for others.

A positive attitude toward learning is encouraged and social skills training is emphasized. Family involvement is essential to assure that students will carry over positive behavior to the home and community. Little Keswick School is committed to structure, nurturance, and encouraging the development of responsible, honorable behavior.

“LKS accepted [our son] with loving arms, a concrete plan of action and presented him with realistic goals executed by a competent staff. LKS allowed him to tap his potential, and guided him towards the skills he needed to become a confident, knowledgeable and motivated young man.”

—A parent from Georgia

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Our Students

Special education school for teenage boys with Aspergers

Boys are accepted between the ages of nine and fifteen at the time of enrollment, and come to Little Keswick from all over the state of Virginia, the nation, and the world. Students are accepted who have a variety of learning, emotional, and behavioral challenges, and may be supported with medication management. Our boys are average to superior intellectually, but come with complex challenges including learning difficulties, social difficulties, mood disorders, executive functioning problems including ADHD, cognitive processing issues, and self-regulation problems. Many of our students struggle with anxiety, fear, and frustration, which they may variably show through manipulation, confusion, opposition, inconsistency, social isolation, obsessions, or disorganized and poorly-regulated behaviors. Applicants must have adequate cognitive abilities and perceptual stability to make use of our interventions. At some level, applicants must be able to build relationships, and implement strategies in order to access the program support.

Little Keswick School radiates an attitude of peace and calm and confidence. I'm not sure whether I like the program more because it is a school or a home. It certainly provides the best qualities of both.”

—Educational Consultant, New Jersey
ADHD special education classes for boys with attention deficit hyperactive disorder

Our students tend to be less sophisticated and streetwise than typical adolescents and pre-adolescents. Therefore, we do not accept applicants with extensive histories of legal involvement or conduct-disordered behaviors. We also do not work with children with sustained patterns of physical aggression, sexual intimidation, or elopement. Some students are able to attain the goals set forth in their Individualized Education/Service Program within a year, but others take two to three years to attain and incorporate goals into their daily life. The typical length of enrollment is two-three years. Funding may be from either private resources or state and local education agencies.

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Therapeutic Benefits of Boarding School Placement

Teenage boy and special education teacher in horse back riding area

The boys accepted for admission to Little Keswick School typically face multiple long-term challenges. Most parents and professionals would agree that comprehensive and intensive services are extremely difficult to obtain when working in parallel with several unassociated professionals. We find that even with the best service coordination, providers only see the boy a total of three or four hours a week, making it difficult to pin down exactly how he is functioning. In a therapeutic boarding facility, professionals all access a rich and relatively complete information pool that more effectively informs interventions. Therapeutic boarding placement enjoys the capacity for true integration of services, which utilizes the strength of combined efforts all pulling in the same direction.

An additional strength in therapeutic boarding school placement is found in the concept of social immersion. Much like learning a language, people learn other behaviors best when immersed in a culture that is saturated with appropriate cues, expectations, and supports. At Little Keswick School, we maintain a structure that usually provides adequate cues and social expectations to sweep individuals along with the current agenda. When a student experiences some barrier to being successful along with the rest of the group, there is an opportunity to practice making choices with progressive levels of support.

Therapeutic boys school

Our students typically feel that they have failed in one or more important areas of life. One reason for this is that children from elementary grades through adolescence depend heavily on social comparison to measure their skills, accomplishments, and even their value in the world. When a child faces neurological, developmental, emotional, and social challenges, his comparisons usually tilt toward negative judgments. By leveling the playing field so to speak, our boys are willing to risk new effort and find new successes. Appropriate comparison groups, achieved through careful admission screening, are a key element in recovering the natural interests, curiosity, and drives that fuel successful efforts.

Finally, therapeutic boarding school placement can serve to re-align family interactions, buffer unproductive intense feelings, and develop new, more productive family roles. Patterns of family interaction are rightfully well established and entrenched. Therefore, when interaction patterns which were likely necessary in a boy’s early development are no longer useful or become damaging, it takes intensive intervention, as well as some separation from old habits to change them. Agendas that have to be realized at home, such as care of other children, getting to school or the grocery store, or parents’ careers, are often in conflict with our boys’ immediate needs for intervention. When mulitple professional and paraprofessional staff are available for interventions, ongoing life agendas can progress while the boy’s needs are being met. Placement at a therapeutic boarding school allows others to be concerned with the moment to moment compliance issues, allowing parents to adopt a more loving consultative role that tends to strengthen the relationship overall. Over time, individual responsibility is improved, maturation progresses, and the family can create a more collaborative alliance to attack the barriers that face them.

Therapeutic boarding placement is not for everyone. Local services and family support should be thoroughly exhausted before considering placement outside the home. The costs in terms of emotional, financial, and time resources are significant. Some difficulties are rooted exclusively or primarily in family interactions and sometimes might best respond to intensive family therapy at home. When selecting a therapeutic boarding school, the most important element is the “fit” of the boy to the type of boys served at that facility. It is important to provide that “just right challenge” where a boy has a strong chance to start experiencing success in some area, without writing off the various skills and talents he has already shown. When local resources are exhausted, the family is ready for the commitment to this difficult work, and a proper fit is found, therapeutic boarding school placement can make a difference in a young man’s life.

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Licensing & Accreditation

Licensing

With the passing of Federal Public Law 94-142 in 1975, Little Keswick School became a state-approved school to meet the needs of learning disabled and emotionally disturbed boys. Little Keswick School is licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Education, Interdepartmental Regulation of Children’s Residential Facilities (CORE), and the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Mental Health.

Licensure is granted on the basis of a rigorous review of Little Keswick School’s facilities, services, and programs by representatives of these state agencies. Periodic announced and unannounced review visits occur at the minimum of every 6 months. The maximum licensure period, granted only to schools with a strong history of compliance with standards, is three years. Little Keswick School proudly maintains 3-year licensure as evidence of the quality of our school.

Accreditation

Little Keswick School’s accreditation comes through membership in VAISEF (Virginia Association of Independent Specialized Education Facilities). VAISEF is recognized by the Virginia Board of Education as the accrediting organization in Virginia for independent schools serving children and youth with specialized educational needs, and VAISEF has its own set of standards: five-year peer reviews and interim self-studies, ensuring a quality academic and residential program. VAISEF accreditation also ensures that high school credits can be transferred to a student’s home or next school placement. Little Keswick School is also a long-standing member of NAPSEC (National Association of Private Special Education Centers) and the Small Boarding School Association.

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Awards

In 1995, LKS received a letter from VAISEF stating, “Congratulations on a most favorable site visit evaluation… Most outstanding was the unblemished site review report. Little Keswick has gone down in VAISEF history to be the first residential school to meet all standards during the site review. This is certainly quite an achievement, and you and your staff should be quite proud of this accomplishment.”

The Little Keswick School provides a therapeutic environment for ADHD, LD, ED and Aspergers

Little Keswick School is also a proud recipient of the “Excellence in Education Award” offered by Woodbury Reports Inc. Woodbury Reports offers this award annually to those schools that pass an extensive screening process and achieve highest ratings. In this ratings process, a network of independent educational consultants grade which schools are highest in quality of programs, safety, and effectiveness.

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