Thursday, July 21, 2011

Little Toy Soldiers

Ridge Creek School is closed and I will never look at little toy soldiers without thinking about the school, the students, familes, and colleagues I worked with while I was there.

Monday after lunch I broke the news to the students that Ridge Creek School would be closing it's doors by the end of the week.  There were tears and protests that it was not true.  Students and staff spent time at Lakefront consoling one another, then the students were dismissed to their dorms to pack and prepare for departures, whenever that would come. 

Later that day I saw some of the boys walking around and putting something on my car.  I asked what they were doing and they said they were putting out toy soldiers.  When I asked why, they said to protect the school.  The little toy soldiers are the Admin Building, the dorms, Academics, the Lodge, the Gym, on retaining walls.  When they ran out of toy soldiers they placed toy animals to watch over us.

It was clear the little toy soldiers were a metaphor for their feelings that day and the days that followed as the toy soldiers are still here, after everyone is gone, protecting Ridge Creek School.  These young men were feeling that they and their school had been attacked and needed protection. 

Over the next few days I heard students say that Ridge Creek was a family, they liked it here, it just started to get good for them and that they did not want to leave.  One student told me he knew he was Oppositional Defiant Disorderd because he did not want to come when he was sent here, and now that he was being forced to leave, he did not want to go.  Another student asked her father to let her spend the night one more time before leaving school.

Parents were, for the most part, incredibly understanding with the news and the scramble for getting their children home or to the next program.  I hear over and over how grateful they were that their child had the time here that they had, some claiming we had saved their child's life. 

The campus is now empty except for the staff that live here.  No more do I hear the shouts and laughter of the students as they return to their dorms in the evening.  The peace of the mountains surrounds the campus, unfortunately it will no longer bring peace and healing to the hearts and minds of troubled teenages.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Teaching in a Therapeutic Boarding School

I have been teaching Spanish in public schools for more then 15 years and in private schools for five years. Recently, I have had the privilege to teach in a therapeutic school, which is very fulfilling. Why? There are several serious differences when it comes to teaching in public school and in a therapeutic school.

In the therapeutic school:

1. The administration values the teacher.

2. The administration respects the teacher.

3. The faculty is more professional.

4. The faculty is more competent.

5. The students have a higher level of intelligence.

6. The students want to learn.

7. The students receive lots of attention as students and as persons.

8. The discipline is superior in all aspects.

9. The classes are very small, always under 15.

10. The classes are more intensive and sound.

11. The involvement of the parent is greater but limited.

12. The strong bond among the students, faculty, and administrators.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Chance to Succeed

My name is Josh Cannon and on March 15, 2010, I was hired to become the athletic director for this school.  Coming from a therapeutic program in North Carolina and working there for five years, my passion was to create and run a successful sports program at a therapeutic boarding school. 

I soon found out, after being hired, that I was here to bring athletics as a whole back to this campus.  The day I got here I was swarmed by students saying, “I want to play this, can we get a team for this.”  Honestly I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. A little over a year later, so many things have changed.  I was told in May of 2010 we were no longer going to be part of a conference we participated in for athletics due to kids at our school having behavioral problems, and again told the same thingon July 10, 2011.  So after having the schedule set around that for all sports, I had to quickly adjust. 

We, as a school got into a new conference (ACCE) for basketball, volleyball and cross country provisionally for 2010 and was accepted a year later in May 2011.  Our kids quickly responded to being kicked out of the conference and with sports such as soccer and cross country performed at the highest, most respective level of integrity possible that can be shown on and off the field. The coaches and I challenged these teams to be respectful leaders not just on the field but on campus as well.  Because of this, they were able to pull through in the face of adversity.  These teams did not win a state championship, or a conference championship. We did however, finish in the Final Four in State in basketball in the ACCE, a state recognized conference, and fifth in the state in Cross Country in the ACCE.

What they did not realize at the time, but realize now, is that they achieved so much more.  They set a foundation for a new Sports Program here at Ridge Creek and new atheletic opportunities for so many who will come after them to participate in.  In the Fall of 2010 I told them that I could care less if they win games, the only thing I care about is the opportunity to give some of these students an outlet.  An outlet for when they get out of here, they have the opportunity to participate in something that will keep them out of trouble and potentially save their life one day as it did for me. 

I believe that the coaches and players this season and for many seasons after have started this trend and it will be evident in what is seen from the Ridge Creek students from here on out.  So after a year and a half of being at this job, I was able to see the students be given a chance, a chance to work on themselves to become better people, not just in therapy sessions or groups, but on the athletic field, where they can become a unified team searching for an identity, but most importantly becoming a family.  For that opportunity that was given to me in March 2010, to become a part of a family with these students, I will be forever in debt to Ridge Creek School.  This place not only changes students lives, but adults lives as well.  Thank you and I look forward to many more memories at this school.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Friday, July 8, 2011

Ridge Creek School's Response to Randy Travis of Fox 5 News

The mission of Ridge Creek School is to provide a successful learning experience for students who have struggled academically or socially in other settings. We provide an opportunity for teens to turn their lives around after other interventions have failed. We do this through the cooperative effort of our academic department, counseling department, recreation department, and the parents of the students placed in our care.

Ridge Creek School admits students on a case-by-case basis and evaluates every potential admission in an effort to screen out inappropriate placements. We rely on the openness of parents to inform us of their child’s psychosocial history, including history of violence and legal charges, current, past, or pending. Sometimes parents do not completely reveal to us their children’s problems in their desperation to save their child. Despite this, and the challenges it brings to the integration of the child into the student body, once admitted we are focused on helping that teen be as successful as possible in completing both their therapeutic and academic goals.

Overall, prior outcome studies have clearly demonstrated our effectiveness in helping teens move away from their self-destructive life course toward futures bright with promise. We have found that the best outcomes came with students who competed the therapeutic curriculum and graduated from our program. Students who were withdrawn early, prior to completing the program, did not do as well.

Ridge Creek School is an accredited college preparatory high school. Our review on February 8 and 9, 2011, by AdvancED (formerly known as SACS, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) resulted in a 5 year reaccreditation. The Quality Assurance Review Team commended the school for the following strengths:

“In light of the fact that Ridge Creek School is in large part a “last chance” opportunity for the students, the commitment of all staff to the success of students is remarkable.”

“All stakeholders repeatedly provided dialogue referencing incredible passion for student success required daily by each staff member. The interviewees shared numerous success stories about students who have made successful transitions extending beyond RCS. Although the students stated that they would certainly rather be someplace else, when they were asked this question, “Three to five years from now, will you look back on this as a positive experience?” a resounding and unified voice of “yes” echoed throughout the room.”

‘The staff has electronic access to student data to effectively address the academic needs of students and guide instruction.”

“Teachers and counselors work collaboratively to address the therapeutic and academic needs of each student by means of the Individual Service Plan (ISP). The school uses the BestNotes program to identify a student’s academic and therapeutic needs based on past history. Teachers use the ISP as a resource to implement interventions and differentiate instruction to ensure the academic success of students. Students are given multiple opportunities to pass required courses by means of academic support sessions and course extensions.”

“RCS effectively uses data obtained from pre-tests to ensure that students are properly placed and given opportunities to achieve educational goals.”

“The beautiful, pristine, and remote wilderness setting of RCS provides a unique environment for the therapeutic, academic, and recreational services available for students, while providing opportunities for students to participate in athletic, cultural, and service sports/projects.”

“The school uses multiple modes of communication to keep all stakeholders involved in the continuous improvement process.”

The suggestions for improvement made by AdvancED included scheduling interdepartmental meetings, the creation of a curriculum map to assist with guiding instruction, engage in a comprehensive process to monitor the effectiveness of the educational program provided using a system of ongoing data analysis of both formative and summative student assessment results, and develop a Continuous Quality Improvement Committee to address issues of staff/student retention, outcome measurements for therapeutic and academic components, and alignment of the school’s future direction/goals. We have implemented some of the suggestions made and are in the process of developing better quality assurance processes.

We are very proud of our students at Ridge Creek. Many come to us with academic failure after academic failure, but they learn to be successful here. All of the students who received their high school diploma from Ridge Creek in May were accepted into college. A young man who is slated to graduate at the conclusion of our summer semester not only was accepted to the school of his choice, but he was also awarded a $40,000.00 scholarship.

Our students come to us as spiteful, oppositional, defiant teens. They learn through various service projects that they can make a difference in the lives of others. They volunteer regularly at the Humane Society, local food pantries, local homeless shelters, and take responsibility for keeping a stretch of highway clear of litter. Through giving back through service projects to the community at large or to the campus community, our students learn to look beyond themselves.

Family involvement is critical in the success of our program. We offer parent workshops to help our parents develop more effective ways of interacting with their child. Our students and families report successful interactions within the family unit during our break weeks, something that many families didn’t believe would be possible.

As our students move through the program, they take on a sense of ownership for their actions and stop blaming others for their problems. This sense of ownership results in the students holding one another accountable. Our students began and took ownership for an on campus NA meeting and this ownership is evidenced by the successful reduction of drug and alcohol use during our break weeks and the reduction in attempts to smuggle in contraband. There are many other small and large successes that lead our students toward a bright and promising future.

One of our recent graduates had this to say about Ridge Creek: “While this is a new chapter in my life, it’s just the beginning and because of Ridge Creek it’s not the end.” Another stated, “what I will leave here saying is I never thought I would be standing here feeling this proud of myself, thank you mom and dad, I love you. And even though I hated this school to the end, it really worked.”

The recent report on Atlanta’s Fox 5 television station was biased and reflected the opinions of two disgruntled individuals. We chose to not be interviewed because of our commitment to professional standards of confidentiality and privacy of our students and parents. We continue to be committed to the mission of the school, our students, and parents. We stand by the successes we see every day despite those who would undermine the future of the school and our students. Most importantly, we are here for the children.