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

Elan School
Poland Springs, Maine
Deanna Atkinson, Admissions Director
(207) 998-4666
Visit by: Tom Croke, June, 1992

My visit to Elan occurred on a record breaking 100 degree early June day. My first impression was of a well kept, but somewhat rustic Maine farm. The large group of teenagers off in a field playing soft-ball told me this was the right place. I was warmly greeted by a very busy admission staff. As I was oriented to the facility, however, my hostess, Donna Mangan, referred all questions regarding program to my soon to appear student guide. My guide, a delightful red haired young man I'll call Jeff, was a retired gang member from one of our largest cities (not Los Angeles). He had been at Elan for fifteen months, and was about to go home for his first visit. He was proud of Elan, grateful for what Elan had done to save his life, and did a superb tour.

Jeff escorted me to one of three frame buildings, each having an almost complete self-contained program. Altogether, these houses, plus one more for students close to discharge, contain 135 students. The interior of the building reminded me of a beehive, with all that was happening.

The first floor was a typical eating, cooking and living space. There was also a corridor for girls' dormitory space. In the dining space was a circle of about a dozen intense teenagers with one staff member. Jeff explained they were being confronted for not making sufficient progress (not achieving a high enough level).

Upstairs were a series of offices off the main corridor (in addition to a side corridor with boys' dormitory space). These offices were bustling with activity. Each of these offices had a particular function pertaining to the life and operation of the school, ranging from supervising housekeeping to providing for activities, and providing for security.

Each student is assigned to one of the offices and is given a particular title, establishing rank or level in the system. Each individual has assigned duties in the operation of the facility. Each is kept strictly accountable with intricate accountability procedures. Ranks are divided into two groups, called "strength" and "non-strength," reminiscent of the military distinction between commissioned officers and enlisted personnel. The program gives each group the task of its own maintenance, with strict accountability for precise response to the demands of the situation. Deviation from expectations will lead to heavy verbal confrontation, loss of rank, and privileges. The theory behind the approach is that as students learn to meet the expectations of this system, they will learn to meet the expectations of larger society in a responsible way.

Although the students have much responsibility, admissions are handled by the paid staff, students have no control over who joins their group, and a fully qualified psychologist supervises all therapeutic activities. An analogy to the military is somewhat appropriate, and it turns out many of the staff qualified for their positions through a military background. It is the responsibility of the higher level students to be the first line of stopping runaways, and intervening in other negative behaviors, a job they seem to do quite effectively. This is even to the extent of having a student sentry on duty all night every night (in shifts).

Education for most students takes place in the evening. I did not have an opportunity to observe classes, but did interview the Director of Education. Elan students work on a competency based curriculum adjustable to reflect the requirements of the school back home. Still, Elan can and does award its own diplomas. Elan is quite proud of its excellent college placement record. Reflecting the needs of the program, all homework is done on weekends in supervised study halls, as there is not time during the week.

Although I had limited opportunity to see it in operation, Elan keeps a separate house for students nearing departure, to smooth re-entry. The students living here, usually in the last three months of the eighteen month program, go off campus during the day for activity appropriate to their future plans, usually a job in the community, and attend school evenings with the other students. All have well developed discharge plans when they leave.

Elan is not for the faint hearted. While the atmosphere is highly confrontive, most of the confrontation comes from peers, who are well trained to come back with a high level of support following any stressful confrontation. Humiliation is stated clearly as a therapeutic tool, as is following up on such intervention with encouragement and warm support.

Many of their residents have significant Drug and Alcohol history, which Elan understands as a symptom of other pathology, frequently referring for twelve step work after graduation. The entire program stresses student contribution to the life of the student community.

I often hear Elan characterized as a school for the most out of control teenagers, and I often hear the suggestion that it is kind of an east coast Provo Canyon School. Neither perception is accurate, nor fair to either school. Unlike Provo Canyon School, Elan has no passive security systems, and no locked units. Elan takes pride in the fact that most of the direct intervention takes place through peer confrontation rather than interaction with a credentialed therapist, such as the direct treatment at Provo Canyon School. Elan cannot accommodate students who present immediate risk of violent acting out.

I would consider Elan very strongly for a young man or woman with serious oppositional tendencies or a conduct disorder, but who could be safely contained by Elan. I was particularly impressed with the honesty of Elan's presentation, in which I was very clearly exposed to those things they knew would not be to my taste. I feel confident that Elan is what it advertises itself to be.

[Tom Croke is an educational consultant residing in Pennsylvania 800-477-3887]

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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