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Schools, Programs, & Visit Reports - Oct, 1991 Issue 

Provo Canyon School
(800) 848-9819
Provo, Utah
Admissions: Debbie de Hass
Lon Woodbury's Visit: June 26, 1991

Provo, Utah is a family town, where it is obvious who is the adult and who is the child. Many activities that are taken for granted in much of the rest of the country are frowned on, or prohibited, in Provo. In the week I spent visiting several schools in the area and exploring the town, I saw very little sign of teen-agers "cruising," but I saw a lot of families doing things together. The weather was mild, and I saw many young people wearing shorts, but none were shorter than two or three inches above the knee. I was told this came from Brigham Young University's dress standards for its students. It seems fitting that Provo Canyon School should be located in a town that so strongly supports parents being in control of their children with a loving and no-nonsense attitude, because at Provo Canyon School there is no question the adults are in control, and they tolerate no nonsense.

The school has probably the tightest structure of any school I've been in. The staff explain they have to control the students before they can influence them. This is also seen as a vital part of their healing process. The behavioral expectations are high, and very detailed. Considering the school's student population lived with little structure before coming there, this structure is designed not only to maintain control, but to force out the student's issues when the students conflict with the system. Once the issues come out from the conflict, the issues can be addressed and worked on through counseling and groups. The detailed expected behavior has been developed in response to the student's ability to manipulate almost any system. The best example I saw of the detail the school uses was when I saw the students passing from one academic class to another. They were walking in single file, with little talking or visiting, no shoving, no crowding, and no horsing around. It was obvious this was what was expected, and the students had learned it. The reasoning is horsing around could cause confusion and allow monkey-business. Of course, the students can relax a little once they get into class, and more flexibility was allowed in PE class and informal or physical activities when it made sense, but it was all thought out in advance on the basis of what was needed for the orderly running of the school, and the structure the students needed for healing.

When behavior is less than expected, the consequences are predictable with no nonsense tolerated. As each child goes through the program, he or she gradually gains privileges. The main consequence for inappropriate behavior or low grades is a loss of privileges, which then have to be re-earned. A more severe consequence for more severe infractions is the Investment Unit, in which the student moves to a separate unit with tighter structure and includes a quiet room.

There is an overall psychiatric management of students, of which the structure is just one part. Their education system and vocational training has an excellent reputation for quality in the industry, and of course is well coordinated with the emotional needs of the students. For example, bad grades will bring about consequences just as much as acting out behavior will. The students days are full, leaving very little idle time. In addition to classes, the students have group sessions of several types, and individual therapy regularly and more frequent when needed, and planned time for socializing. Supporting programs include a three-month substance abuse program when the student needs that experience, and family case management to bring the family dynamics into the overall healing.

Up until February of this year, both the boys and the girls had classes and many activities together. One result was some academic classes were as late as 8 pm. To solve this administrative problem, the school created separate programs for boys and girls. The children maintained some joint activities so the students would still have some opposite sex socializing, but for most of the time classes and activities became single sex. An unanticipated result was that the children settled down faster than before, overall behavior improved, and academic grades improved. I heard this from several staff people and their experience seems to be very supportive of those who argue for single sex programs.

The staff are proud of their program. They of course talk about graduates that are doing well that first came to the school with little prospects for success in life.

Copyright 1991, 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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