Graduation Day

The Cherokee Creek mission is to “challenge boys and their families to discover what is real and true about themselves and the world around them.”  Graduation is a poignant and powerful moment for everyone at Cherokee Creek… staff, students and parents. It is a time to reflect on the lessons of self-discovery that have been learned by the students and their parents.  It is a time of “honorable closure”…to say goodbye and to send blessings for the next leg of the journey.  

Alumni mom, Susan, read this message to her son, Daniel, at his graduation in August and she is allowing us to share these words with you.  They capture so well the Cherokee Creek Boys School experience from a parent’s perspective. Thank you, Susan, for demonstrating your understanding of courage, truth, love and wisdom through your strong-hearted, hope-filled and loving words to your wonderful son!

Susan reads to Daniel at his graduation

Susan reads to Daniel at his graduation

Daniel, so often in your life you have chosen the most difficult path, often thinking it was the easiest. I’ve seen you work very hard to avoid work, and in your interactions with people or just when by yourself, you often did the opposite of what was really your heart’s desire. All of this culminated in dragging you down into a vortex that was not leading to a very happy, successful ending.

We knew you needed to be removed from your old habits and ways of thinking and set into a new, healthy, healing environment.  We gave you the gift of time, of taking a time-off, to start to find out who is the authentic Daniel that God so masterfully created. We knew if you uncovered your true self and gave yourself grace, that you would start to see your own worth as well as in others, and from there you could find your goals for yourself and start to rebuild your patterns into healthy ones.

Daniel, you have worked very hard and have sacrificed so much. It was very, very hard for us to be separated from you, but at least we had each other. I frequently imagined your fear and pain in the early days at CCBS. It must have been brutal. 

Thanks to your hard work and determination and the encouragement, wisdom, and patience of everyone at CCBS, you have become the new and improved Daniel. You have the warmth, values, humor, and talent, you’ve always had, but now it’s packaged in a more confident, courageous, other-centered person. You came to CCBS as a boy, but you’re leaving as a man.

I am so proud of you and am so full of hope for your future. I see you being happy, successful in school, and sports, and hopefully growing in your relationship with God. Where I once thought of your future with worry, I am now so optimistic. 


Thank you everyone, Mike, Jane, Butch, Nick, James, Will, Yanic, Royce, Sandy, Sharon, David, and everyone else I’m forgetting. Thank you for what you have done for Daniel. You have given us a priceless gift and we will be forever grateful.


Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

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Don’t Slam the Screen Door

Phil guides a student through a building project in the early days of Cherokee Creek

Phil guides a student through a building project in the early days of Cherokee Creek

As a child my family summer vacations were spent with my relatives in a small town in east Texas, far from my home in Baltimore. I have rich memories of fun and interesting times in that environment that was very different from my city life.

I stayed in the old farm house that my grandfather built for his new bride…the house where my mother, aunts and uncles where all born, and now belonged to my uncle. The house had huge twelve foot ceilings, a through hall for ventilation and no air conditioning. As in all houses of this type, one entered and left by the screen door that closed via the spring attached to the door frame. 

Since I was a child, with my own very important agenda, I was always off like a flash throwing the screen door open to enter or leave and allowing it to slam shut by the spring. To tell you the truth, I never even noticed the “slam”, but my uncle sure did. 

After about a week of the door slamming at least a hundred times a day, his nerves worn a little thin. He finally stopped me once as I was charging into the house, and I found myself staring up at him as the door slammed shut behind me. For some reason there was a noticeable nervous twitch in his face as the door slammed. He calmly, and it seemed to me with more control than I thought necessary, told me that he wanted me to hold the door as it closed so it wouldn’t slam. That seemed easy enough to me, so I nodded and told him I would. He was finished with me so I turned to go back outside. 

Racing back outside, I was off the porch and down the stairs before the door slammed. I couldn’t be sure because, as I said, I was a child and had much more important things to think about than doors…and I sure didn’t hear anything.  However, my uncle was out the door in a flash (faster than I remembered him being able to move) with a very interesting red tint to his face. This time he spoke much, much louder….

The point is, I wasn’t “doing” anything deliberately, I was simply unaware… something I have since had the opportunity to observe in other children (including middle school boys!). In fact, these days I have taken my uncle’s role with my own kids. It is always helpful for me to have this memory, as my face gets a little red over something that my surprised child doesn’t even realize he’s done. 

Teaching awareness and sensitivity is one of the nicest gifts we can give to our children. They won’t get it right off…they’re just kids being kids…and, as in all things, the lesson will stick if we are consistent and give it time.


Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

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Eagle’s Wings

In our study of the Medicine Wheel at Cherokee Creek Boys School, we are exploring the qualities of the Healer, the value of Love and the guiding principle of, “Paying attention to what has heart and meaning.” Therapist Jane Barker shares a touching story of healing and love – an experience filled with heart and meaning for her.

CCBS Therapist Jane Barker

CCBS Therapist Jane Barker, LISW

It was not an ordinary camping trip. I was taking my daughter Casey to the state park where I had experienced treasures of childhood joys. In my early adulthood visits to the park had been harshly interrupted by my father’s chronic illness. I was flooded by memories of my father as I sat rocking gently in the hammock the first day, as he had so often done when I was a child. The park magically came alive with voices of laughter from my past summers. I was overwhelmed by the unexpected, simultaneous emotions of grief and joy. 

Later, during that same trip, I caught sight of a majestic Eagle soaring skillfully through the sky. I sat amazed at the splendor of this grand creature soaring through an orange evening sky glistening over the still blue water. Its mantles of feathers were a spectacular sight and its pallid head projected from the wings like a snow capped mountain. This rare sighting of the Eagle in the wild gave me a splendid observation of the Master of the Skies. 

I know my flashbacks to childhood and my encounter with the majestic Eagle were an alignment with grace, soaring like the Eagle, riding the winds to touching healing. I recognized the beauty beyond the harsh and cruel realities of life and death. 

I believe that when an animal shows up to you in an unusual way it is trying to convey a message. On that day I received a message about my own healing journey from the Eagle. My grief was a majestic encounter upon Eagle’s wings.

What magical and spectacular encounters have you had with animals in nature?  In what ways has the beauty of nature inspired healing in your life?


Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic Boarding School for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.


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Don’t Feed the Bears!

Thirty miles from our destination and fifty miles from our starting point, our backpacking trip had ground to a halt.

 “Who’s in charge here?” she asked. I quickly indicated to her that I was the trip leader and handed over our permit. We were 35 miles from the nearest trailhead and I was a little surprised to see such a young, petite backcountry ranger this far in without a horse nearby.

 “Get your group to empty their packs and before I let you in to this Wilderness Area I need to see that all of your food, trash, and toothpaste is packed in bear-proof containers. We have a real problem here with…”  She glanced at something behind me, “s’cuze me just a second.” The ranger quickly walked over to her pack as I turned around to see where she was looking. It was a bear…A BIG BLACK BEAR… headed straight for the contents of our backpacks. The pixie-like ranger strode right by me, straight at the bear, but now she was carrying a shotgun! She marched right up to the bear, lowered the muzzle, and WHAM!, shot the bear right between the eyes from point-blank range.

 I was stunned at what had just happened! The bear squealed and whirled around, disoriented for an instant, then sprinted off into the woods. The whole event took less than 5 seconds and our whole group was staring, with our mouths open, not really able to absorb what had just happened!

 “Um, excuse me, would you mind explaining to us what just happened?” I asked very politely.

 She faced us and said, “People have been too sloppy with their food here…they even feed the bears.  Now all the bears in the area associate people and backpacks with food.” Continuing her matter-of-fact answer, “My job is to show the bears that people and backpacks do not equal food. I just shot that bear with a rubber slug, so hopefully he’ll get the message.” She paused and then said, “If he doesn’t…well…let’s finish checking your bear cans.”

Until then bear-proofing every night was a real chore – usually done begrudgingly with groaning and eye-rolling. But, that rubber bullet impacted each one of us. Our laziness, carelessness or ignorance was putting this great creature in real danger.  After witnessing the consequence of thoughtless actions, it no longer felt like a chore – now it was a compassionate duty for the safety and well-being of the bears.Dont Feed the Bears

 A “Real and True” lesson about actions and consequences was revealed to us at point-blank range. We are surrounded by “bears” all the time. As parents, teachers, mentors or leaders, we influence others by our willingness to “bear-proof” our life – to follow the rules and hold appropriate boundaries for everyone’s safety.

 My challenge to you: Go to your backpack and check to see if everything is “bear proofed”. It just might save the life of a bear!

David LePere is the executive director for Cherokee Creek Boys School, a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys ages 11-15, located in beautiful upstate South Carolina.

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The Gift of Attention

Language Arts Teacher and Author, Butch Clay shares a powerful story of paying attention…in its many forms. And he offers the paradoxical challenge that can arise when we pay too much attention to one focus and miss the “heart and meaning.”

CCBS English Language Arts and Social Studies Teacher Butch Clay

CCBS English Language Arts and Social Studies Teacher Butch Clay

The assignment was to write a narrative, one true story, about a significant life event. “Make it about something special,” I said, “not  just normal, run-of-the-mill stuff.”

Ordinary is not what I am looking for here,” I said.

Writing in a rough and earnest hand, one student (now graduated and doing well in school) scrawled down a short “short” story that began well and ended well, yet never quite got off the ground. As a story about a momentous event, it seemed a plodding piece. Yet this short, simple story, in the end, became one I can not forget.

“Here’s my paper, Butchman,” he said, pitching three dog-eared sheets onto my desk, “It’s about a soccer game I played in; my dad drove me to it.” He was out the door and down to lunch before I read it.

Circling misspellings amd scratching notes in the margins as I read, trying to note the good along with the not so good, I thought, “Where’s the story here? If this is about a momentous soccer game, then when does the action start? Where’s the big moment?”

True, it was obvious that the writer had listened in class: Just as I had asked him to do, he made an honest effort to record detail, to write “one true story all on your own.” But as a story of a soccer game, this narrative had a big hole in it. It was about everything that happened before and after the game, but not the game itself.

“It’s a good draft,” I told him, “a good first effort. But in your second draft, I want more. I want you to really engage your subject. In this draft you set the stage for the big game: getting ready for the game, driving to the game with your dad, talking about nothing special on the way to the game. But then you jump to driving home from the game, grabbing a bite to eat, just kicking back and relaxing after the game. What you have here is good stuff, I see that you remembered well and wrote hard, but you’ve overlooked the most important part, the game itself. I need you to show me that game.”

“OK, Butchman,” I will try again, but I thought this was good. You said you wanted one true story, and that’s what I did.”

Came the second draft, three days later, a Friday. My young writer had trod the same ground again, earnestly reporting a set of detailed particulars about nothing in particular, about everything before and after the big game. That fact, itself, did not surprise me. What did surprise was that he had indeed rewritten his work; it was not just re-copied. Clearly, he was trying.

“OK,” I said, “I’ll take this for now. You did what I asked you to do; you rewrote the whole paper. That’s awesome; you get an honest “A” for effort. But your story still lacks one key part. We have to sit down next week and talk about how to fix this piece of writing.” It being Friday, I was, I admit, just ready to hit the road. I could let the dog lie till Monday, or so I thought.

Cruising down country roads toward home, with thoughts of my wife and young kids starting to well up through those of work and school, I found myself nevertheless returning to the soccer story. How does even a fledgling writer write a story about a soccer game that leaves out the game itself!

I dwelled on the soccer story so long that I finally caught myself chewing too hard on it all, getting too worked up. Finally, I moaned out loud, “Why am I stuck on this doggone short, short story.”

When I got home, my kids were at the door, waiting, Benjamin my six year-old wanting to build “Lego” trucks, Lanie my two year-old, to “wead books.” There would be time for both. I hated to put them off, they had waited so expectantly, but I had first to uncoil the knots in my head before diving headlong into Dr. Suess’s Hop On Pop or Sam and the Firefly.

I needed instead to dive in elsewhere, into the lake. I headed down a woods path I know well, down to my neighbor’s back cove to swim laps. I needed face time with my best friend, the only therapist I can afford…cold, clear mountain water.

Soon I was exactly where I needed to be, face down in the clear emerald green, watching the sunlight pour down into the water in long butter-colored beams, flecking off suspended sand grains – as thoughts float in the mind. But I found I could not out-swim my day; the story with a hole in it came back again.

And those thoughts turned too, in turn, back to my kids, now waiting on me all over again, back at home, up the hill, through the darkening woods, Lanie with her pile of books and Benjamin with a bucket brimming full of Lego bits and pieces.

I swam on anyway, pulling and kicking and gasping for breath long enough to at least reach agreement with myself on this much: I was exhausted. I made it back home again, just before night closed down the woods.

By now the kids were in bed, already asleep. I had missed them again.

Over dinner with my wife, I told her about the paper and all about how it had established a beachhead in my brain. I got it out of my pack and showed it to her.

“This kid writes well,” she said. “He definitely writes beyond his years.”

“But he never really tells the story,” I protested. “Its supposed to be a story about  a big deal, a big day in his life.”

“OK, well,” she came back, “since you’re such a genius, I would think you’d see what’s obvious. This story is not about the game at all. The real story here, the one true story, Shakespeare, is not about the game, it’s about the dad. The kid could give a rip about the game; he was with his dad. His team could lose fifty to nothing and he could not care less. His dad was paying him some attention.”

Attention! This is perhaps the most important lesson I have had to learn, as a teacher and as a father. Simple. Profound. Real. True. Unalloyed attention. Nothing else really matters, and a child will accept no substitutes. The hole in my young writer’s story represented the hole in his life. It was all about the particulars. And I am not pointing fingers here. This is a hole I dig all too well myself. Day by day it gets dug, a little or a lot at one time.

The gift of attention: the greatest gift we can give to a child. Itself free, and always available to be freely given.

This is the truest story I know, impossible to be outrun or for that matter, out-swum. And this is the edge I work, at school and at home. I have a long way to go.

Cherokee Creek Boys School is a “learning community that challenges boys and their families to discover what it real and true about themselves and the world around them.” And in this learning community we also know that our students are also our greatest teachers! Every day we are challenged to “practice what we preach,” and continue to learn and grow.
(And our “significant others” can be pretty smart, too!)

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