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Schools, Programs, & Visit Reports - Dec, 1992 Issue 

John Dewey Academy
Dr. Thomas E. Bratter, President
413-528-9800
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Tom Croke Visit
412-532-0490

My initial impression of John Dewey Academy was formed about fifteen years ago -- prior to the school's founding -- when I met Dr. Thomas Edward Bratter, the schools president and founder. We were at a conference on New Orleans where Tom was presenting a paper on intervention with substance abusing adolescents.

In that paper, Tom described the appropriate relationship between a professional intervening with a substance abusing teenager as a battle which needs to be won by the professional using almost guerilla tactics. The application of that belief system, controversial, and something which resembles enmeshed family dynamics, dominates Tom's work at John Dewey Academy to this day. It also explains a big part of JDA's success.

A second factor is unique to JDA and needs to be understood in evaluating the school. Where most other structured boarding schools are focused on personal growth and/or therapeutic intervention, John Dewey Academy focuses on the objective of placing its students in colleges of distinction, and the character development necessary to that end.

The only thing really important in selecting and retaining students at John Dewey Academy, besides integrity, is whether or not they are perceived as potentially successful as college or university students in schools of distinction, and support JDA's reputation in the eyes of the colleges as a source of quality admission candidates. Students perceived to be off track for that goal will probably not make it to graduation at JDA. A student who graduates from John Dewey Academy and brings discredit on the credibility of JDA to get its graduates admitted to colleges of distinction, will feel the impact of Tom Bratter's principles of the obligation to join the battle. There is no question that all of this is controversial, and people I highly respect will not refer to JDA because of Tom's response to students who break their commitments. Those who understand what is happening and do not agree with it, are clearly entitled to their view, and can make a credible case for it. Those who are reluctant because they feel the school is unpredictable, do not understand the principles which guide the school. The school is entirely predictable, effective in its mission and honestly presented.

When I visited JDA, its student body was the most self regulated group of teenagers I have ever seen. I arrived at 8:30 P.M., to a group of students essentially running the school for the evening. One student checked me in. Another drove up in the school van, having been on a business errand for the school. With no adult intervention the students were flawless in meeting their responsibilities to themselves and each other, and putting out a red carpet for me.

This carries through all aspects of student life, with admission and hiring decisions subject to student screening. Students feel empowerment in this environment. This may be easier to achieve at JDA than at other schools, because JDA only accepts students who want to remain by the time they complete the probationary visit which is a required part of the application procedure.

One other unusual feature, was the number of students who had previously been inpatients in psychiatric hospitals on heavy medications for alleged thought disorders. They certainly weren't thought disordered the day I was there, and they certainly were not being medicated.

The classes I attended were conducted with excellence matching the finest independent preparatory schools. Every student was focused on the twin goals of college admission and responsible living. When I attended group, it seemed more connected with life outside group than comparable groups in comparable schools. The day I was there Tom led group, as his bsent, and I lacked the opportunity to experience others balancing his energy. Tom was omnipresent, confrontational, and functioning as a hard to please parent.

A referral to John Dewey Academy is a high risk, high gain affair. What a student can gain is a foundation for a successful future after a troubled history may exceed the potential of any other structured boarding school. Virtually all of their students are placed in competitive four year colleges, and close to half are dean's list students. What a student risks is the potential not to make it through a program which requires constant attention to the mission on which their acceptance to the school was based. But nothing is hidden and what you see is what you get.

I would refer the right student to JDA, and have made several unsuccessful attempts at referral since my visit. I would also keep close tabs on his/her progress, once admitted. I would not refer a student I thought would be damaged by not making it through their system. I would also use a referral as an excuse to stop by frequently. A visit to JDA is something I truly enjoy.

Copyright 1992, 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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