Our Beginnings & Legacy

In 1990, after working at one of the nation's first therapeutic boarding schools and for various recreational and educational programs, Penny James and her partner created Explorations. With a vision that young people learn best by doing, a hands-on model was created which immersed students in real life settings where they could practice new, healthy life skills and spend time pursuing adventure activities and healing environments in the outdoors. In 2009, Penny became the sole Director of the program and continued with the vision, collaborating with professionals to strengthen the parent experience with the program and bolster the adventure component. The combination of realistic life experiences, adventure travel and the power of nature forged a unique experiential model for which Explorations has been known, for nearly 30 years.

Over the years, Explorations' students have traveled to over 20 states as well as international destinations such as Peru, Costa Rica, Mexico and Canada. Students have participated in cultural immersion trips and service work both domestically and abroad. Students and staff have performed service on the Blackfeet, Crow, and Flathead reservations, brought clothing and school supplies to orphanages in Costa Rica, built mud brick homes in Peru and helped build homes for Habitat for Humanity in Montana. Students have hiked, bicycled, explored, and rafted in the pristine Montana rivers and forests that surround us as well as the Prince William Sound in Alaska, the Green River in Utah, and Puget Sound in Washington.

Explorations sees our local community as an integral part of each student's experience. Students and staff have contributed their time and talents to many local organizations and causes. An annual memorial scholarship has been funded by Explorations since 1996. This scholarship for continuing education has been available to graduating students at our local high school and has rewarded service-minded young people with nearly $20,000 since its inception. Our community gives so much to us and it is the goal of Explorations to give back to the community.

-- Penny James


  • Trustee: School District #6, Trout Creek Elementary School 2000 - present 
    -- Serves as an elected Trustee on local school board.
  • Board Member: National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP) 2000 - 2008, 2015 - 2017 
    -- Served as a Board member for the national association for 10 years, over two separate terms. 
    -- Helped establish Principles of Good Practice and Small Programs Standards.
  • Board Member: State of Montana Board of Private Alternative Adolescent Residential or Outdoor Programs (PAARP) 2008 - present 
    -- Serves on this Governor-appointed Board, which oversees regulatory issues and licensure for all private adolescent programs in the state of Montana.
  • Scholarship Benefactor: Jason Hanna-Explorations Memorial Scholarship 1996 - present 
    -- Provide annual scholarship for Thompson Falls High School students to an institution of higher learning post high-school. Scholarship is based upon student contributions and service to their school and community.