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Schools, Programs, & Visit Reports - Jun, 1990 Issue 

The DeSisto School
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Lon Woodbury's Visit: May 3, 1990

Population: Coed, ages 14 to 20, who have been failing.
Model: Residential boarding school with strong counseling and therapy.
Founded: 1978.
Program Length: Year round until graduation.
Current Size: 184
Capacity: 185
Credentials: Accredited through the local school district.
Faculty: 45
Academics: College Prep with higher requirements for a DeSisto diploma.
Physical Activities: Regular PE classes & sports.
Family Participation: Emphasized, and almost required, in 16 area groups.
Enrollment: Family interview required. Enroll usually the same day and enroll year round.
Graduation: Early June.

Western Massachusetts, especially the Berkshires, has traditionally been the rural escape for the urban dwellers of Boston and New York. These summer and year-round refugees have brought their culture with them. For example, the Boston Symphony's summer home is in Stockbridge, just a few miles from the DeSisto school. The school reflects this environment of culture by a heavy emphasis on dance, art, and music. During my visit I kept running into signs of this emphasis, on one occasion watching a singing practice session by a student which bordered on being a professional quality performance. As another example, the head of the school dance program is D. J. McDonald, a dance choreographer who moved to DeSisto from Broadway, bringing some of his professional dancers with him as teachers.

The DeSisto School is obviously a personal creation of Michael DeSisto. There is no doubt he is in charge, which probably has something to do with him being considered controversial in some educational circles. His personal time is spent mostly in working directly with students' emotional growth. This starts in admissions where he does most of the interviewing and takes the leading role in decisions if a student is to be enrolled. This was explained to me that he does the "insight" work, delegating to others follow-up work such as administration, interviews, etc.

DeSisto started as a school and evolved from there in the focus on dysfunctional youth. The academics are college preparatory, with students being able to take college courses while still on campus when appropriate. School is year round with standard vacations and the summer program is required for enrollment the next school year. The school is ungraded, with small classes, and students take only 3 subjects each "dime," (two months long). Study in the Arts is intended to be a key element in helping students learn how to express their feelings, as well as a growing emphasis in working in and serving the surrounding community. For example, the students run and work in a local coffee shop in neighboring Lenox which serves coffee, soft drinks, and light meals. There are off-campus study possibilities students can work for, including learning Spanish in Mexico, and Marine Biology in the Florida Keys.

In emotional growth, each new student is assigned a therapist for weekly sessions, daily and as needed group sessions in dorm meetings, and students progress up the four levels by consensus of his/her peers. For students who are acting out and are very resistant, assignment to farm work is designed to allow the student full time to think through their behavior and how they are living life.

A student can graduate with a standard High School diploma, or, if he/she meets the higher requirements, can receive a DeSisto diploma. They tell me 90% of their graduates go on to college, but they have not done any detailed follow-up studies.

Copyright 1990, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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