On July 10, 1995, the Woodward Academy opened as an all-male residential treatment facility for boys ages 12-18. The 1980’s and 1990’s saw a rise in juvenile crime across the country, and Governor Branstad wanted to address the problem. Woodward Academy was created in response to legislation passed by the Iowa Legislature calling for the establishment of rehabilitation programs for troubled youth. On that day, Woodward was one of two “boot camps” established in the state (the facility in Davenport no longer operates).
The four students and 13 staff members who started on that day had no idea that over the next two decades, Woodward Academy would become one of the best juvenile treatment facilities in the nation. Those humble beginnings have grown into a school that has a student population of 265 students and that employs 235 staff members. Every day, students receive the clinical services they deserve, are offered an educational curriculum from certified teachers, and are given opportunities to excel in high school athletics. Although Woodward Academy is labeled a treatment facility, it operates like a private prep school where students are proud to be Knights.
The Woodward Youth Corporation (WYC), a non-profit organization, was created in 1995 to manage the day-to-day activities of Woodward Academy. One building was leased and renovated from the Woodward Resource Center, which served as the first 24-bed dormitory for students. By August of 1995, that dorm was full and Woodward never stopped growing. In October of ’95, space for a second dormitory was added and in the following January, the Academy expanded to another building and its third dormitory. In just under one year’s time, Woodward Academy had four programs operating and 96 beds available for students.
The early years saw rapid growth for the Academy, but the school was still in its infancy. The staff were new, many inexperienced, and at times the primary daily focus was survival. As a result, student “buy-in” was lacking and relationships between students and staff were not solid. For the first five years, the WYC partnered with Youth Services International (YSI) and Correctional Services Corporation, whose main function was to help manage Woodward Academy. That contract expired in 2000 and the WYC decided it was in the best interest of Woodward Academy to partner with Sequel Youth and Family Services. When Sequel came on board, the philosophy changed on campus and the groundwork was laid for what the Academy would eventually become.
Woodward Academy joined Sequel at the perfect time because there were a lot of new students coming on campus. In 2002, a fifth dorm was added that brought the student census up to 120 students. An additional dorm was added each of the next two years and by August 2004, the Academy’s capacity had grown to 168 students.
An increase in students also required an expansion of facilities. In 2000, the decision was made to create an education center. At a cost of just over $700,000, the new school building opened in late 2002 and moved the crowded, partitioned classrooms from the weight room into a building with 11 classrooms and a gymnasium. The expanded space was only the beginning for an education program that now has 25 classrooms, a computer lab, 3 conference rooms, and offices within 4 buildings dedication to schooling.
The best part about growing as a school has been the continued expansion in other areas as well. In 2007, the student moving company, Knights on the Move, started operation, allowing students to earn a wage while on campus. Additional student jobs have been added throughout the years and now include custodial work in the schools and administrative buildings, and during the summer a landscaping crew helps mow and maintain the campus grounds. The Academy’s athletic facilities have grown considerably and now include a new baseball field (2012), powerlifting weight room updated with collegiate equipment (2012), and a football field and track (updated in 2013). In July 2017 we started accepting girls as the new girls dorm opened on Pathfinder Hall.
The first 20 years in Woodward Academy’s history has seen remarkable growth. More importantly, the first 20 years has seen Woodward Academy provide remarkable services and opportunities to at-risk youth who are often marginalized by society. As a school, Woodward Academy has proven that when expectations are set, and resources provided to succeed, students from all walks of life can excel. At Woodward Academy, success is a norm and it will only expand as the school moves into its next 20 years.