Programs, & Visit Reports - Jun, 1992 Issue
Poland Springs, Maine
Deanna Atkinson, Admissions Director
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
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
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
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]
© 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.)