SHERIDAN — When Jennifer Torrez of Laramie was court ordered to relocate to Sheridan and attend the Wyoming Girls School during her eighth-grade year for assault and battery charges, she expected to do her time and move on with her life.
Little did she know, her life would never be the same again due to the lessons, programs and rehabilitation she received at the facility.
“I wasn’t getting the best grades in Laramie and even with tutoring I wasn’t really getting it,” Torrez said. “The Girls School gave me an amazing baseline to start with, and when I went back to Laramie I went from being a D and F student to an A and B student.”
But it wasn’t the grades that changed her life, Torrez said.
“The relationships I built with some of the teachers and some of the staff have lasted beyond the Girls School,” she said. “The counselor I had there, we talk on a regular basis, and these staff, these teachers, all the people who were there to make a difference back then, they never went away, they are still there.”
When the school opened its doors in 1925, nine girls participated in the first class. Back then, there were no statutes saying students must be adjudicated to be enrolled.
“I had a former student come to the school and tell me that her mom dealt with substance abuse while she was a child, and one day a neighbor heard her mom yelling and called the police so they came and took her to the Girls School,” said Veronica Hagemann, who has been a science teacher at WGS for more than 20 years.
Enrollment procedures are not the only things that have changed over the 90-year history.
Originally, the girls gardened, raised cattle and pigs, canned goods, wove and created other goods that would be sold to the community.
“I always tell the girls to imagine the Girls School was kind of like the Walmart for the community,” Hagemann said. “Of course it evolved. They are not taking care of hogs anymore, but we do have a full-blown greenhouse with hydroponics and they are taking care of horses.”
A new emphasis has also been placed on learning and using technology.
Though students are not allowed to have cellphones on campus, school leaders want kids to understand 21st century technology.
History and technology teacher Jordan O’Donnell helps teachers incorporate a 3-D printer into science and math lessons, and all teachers utilize available technology.
And while classes run from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. daily, that doesn’t mean the girls are kicking back. Hagemann said they go to group therapy, one-on-one therapy, informative groups and topical groups. They also interact with staff who both supervise the girls and serve as role models.
Chauntel Ring is an overnight youth services aid in the Morton Dorm, supervising the girls while they sleep and helping them prepare for the day each morning.
“You kind of take them under your wing and some people feel like they are their grandchildren or their children, or in my case I feel like their aunt,” Ring said. “These girls are not scary. I think a lot of people when they hear about the Girls School they think all the students are scary or evil, but they are not. They are just typical girls. But for the most part these specific girls have had a rough go of it with life, and they are all really great girls that just need a little bit of extra help.”
90th anniversary celebration
The archiving project at the Wyoming Girls School is approaching 100 books of photos, stories and documents starting from the 1920s all the way to present day. They will all be on display for perusing under a big tent at the anniversary celebration.
“My hope is to get everyone who has had a connection to the girls school, whether it be a member of the community or a relative, former student or worker, to come up and enjoy the books, because I guarantee they will find something that is of connection to them,” project leader Veronica Hagemann said.
On Sept. 18. All members of the community are invited to visit the school from 1-4 p.m. Campus tours including the new dormitories will also be offered.