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

[This article is outdated.  Cascade School closed January 20, 2004.]

Cascade School
(916) 472-3031
Whitmore, California
Adms: Judy Tofflemire/Steve Hargis-Bullen
Headmaster: Michael Allgood
Lon Woodbury's Visit: June 14, 1991

"They are all teachers" was the students' answer when I asked them how they saw the difference between the teachers and the counselors. This answer told me the school has done very well in their stated goal of integrating academic education and therapeutics into one whole.

In explaining their school, all Special Purpose Schools tend to describe first the therapeutic side, and then the academic side. Cascade does this too, but the distinction is artificial, and is used mainly as a convenience for explanations only. In reality, there is much overlapping between therapeutics and academics at Cascade, and the lines of distinction are fuzzy and blurred. Both staff and students see academic classes as important elements of emotional growth as well as academic growth. They also see therapeutic activities, such as groups, as a learning process as well as therapy.

One good example was the math teacher I talked to. On the surface, his goals were the same as any math teacher in the country -- help the students increase their proficiency in mathematics. The way he approached it, however, brought a strong element of emotional growth into the classroom. He sees math as problem solving, and the students' work in his class as practice in how to solve problems. With support and guidance, a student's increasing skill in mathematical problem solving can be transferred to problem solving in his or her personal life. He also approached the class with an emphasis on discovery and ownership. What this means is the teacher presents a problem, and it is then the students' job to figure out how to solve it using either new material or concepts the class has already been introduced to. By treating it as a problem solving exercise, and putting the responsibility to find the solution onto the students, the solution and how it is found is truly owned by the student. Not only is the academic learning more solid, but success builds self-esteem, and problem solving skills are developed which can be transferred to the student's personal life.

Another example came from an English teacher. Again, the classroom looked like any of thousands of English classrooms around the country. One difference was in the teacher using drawing as a pre-writing exercise. She has the students do a lot of writing, under the theory that the only way to learn how to write is to write. The important wrinkle this teacher used is to allow the students to attach drawings along with his or her written essay. She found that 75% of the new students will attach drawings to help express what he or she is trying to say. This percentage decreases as the students' writing ability and emotional growth progresses.

The importance of this technique is apparent when we look at the type of child Cascade enrolls. Their typical new student has great difficulty in self-expression. Some of them might be very verbal, but when those verbal students are asked to tell what they are really feeling, they either give a blank stare, or a verbal song and dance, showing they don't know what you are talking about. By accepting drawings as part of an essay assignment, the students are being helped to break out of their emotional isolation, and are beginning to succeed in true self expression. This is a vital step in the healing of emotional problems, as well as a vital step in success at English academics.

One other thing I learned in talking to this English teacher. I will never again look at Art and Drawing in Elementary schools as just "play." The old time elementary teachers knew what they were doing when they put Art and Drawing as vital parts of the elementary curriculum. They were teaching self-expression, which is a pre-requisite for both writing ability, and success as a human being.

Headmaster Michael Allgood was very insistent that the school's goal from the beginning has been to learn how to use academics as the primary healing tool in working with children with emotional problems. Some schools emphasize wilderness/outdoors for healing, others emphasize structure, and still others emphasize standard psychological techniques such as counseling, groups, time-out rooms, and Individual Treatment Plans. All Special Purpose schools use some of all these elements, but Cascade has gone further than most in using academics as a therapeutic tool, and it seems to be working, judging by the successes in their graduates.

Some professionals feel Cascade enrolls softer and easier children than the other Special Purpose schools do. I'm not sure that that's true. The day I was there, they enrolled a girl who at one point threw herself on the ground in front of her parent's car so they couldn't leave without her. She of course eventually enrolled once she knew her parents were firm and that she had to be there. That doesn't sound like a very soft or easy to work with child to me. Actually, that is pretty comparable to anything I saw in my five years enrolling children at Rocky Mountain Academy.

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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