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

Valley View School
Dr. Phil Spiva, Director
North Brookfield, MA
(508) 867-6505
Tom Croke Visit - June 3, 1992
(412) 532-0490

I visited Valley View on a warm Spring Day, as the students were preparing for graduation. My first impression was of a neat, well-kept campus in a pastoral setting. It was hard to imagine such a peaceful scene so close to the hustle and bustle of Boston.

The peaceful sense came to a screeching halt when I had the opportunity to mingle among the students, a well-nurtured and well-managed group of boys whose energy level was beyond anything I had ever experienced previously in a group of its size. Valley View lives up to the description offered by its director as “therapeutic community with the feel of a boarding school”.

Valley View is a staff-dominated school with a student body characterized primarily as boys who have at one time been diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder, whether or not the diagnosis was accurate. Director Phil Spiva also characterized it as primarily boys who are oppositional, but not alienated, boys who do not like having parents tell them what to do, but are receptive to adult leadership under optimum conditions.

The age range is from ten or eleven to seventeen, although the plan not to admit new students above 15 in the foreseeable future (if I had an otherwise appropriate 16 or 17 year old and plead for an exception). The younger boys seem not so oppositional, but VERY hyperactive. The older ones seem mildly oppositional, but struggling to be understood and accepted for who they are (who isn’t?), and having a greater than average struggle with that, due to having been rejected so many times due to perceived ADHD and similar issues that the world does not love them, than to express hostility, anger, or rejection to the world around them.

Academically, my opportunity to observe was limited, but there was plenty of evidence of a solid highly individualized academic program, appropriate to the needs of these students. That optimistic view is supported by having met some of their former students, when visiting more conventional boarding schools, and seeing that Valley View had well prepared them, academically and otherwise. Valley View provides both the structure in which a hyperactive or undisciplined young man can learn, and the guidance to gain the skills to enable learning later on. With the younger boys, appropriate levels of nurture were in place.

The Therapeutic program, operated by well qualified and credentialed professionals in psychology, education, and social work, is effective, yet subtle. To just describe the point system and levels system makes it simply sound like many other programs. What makes Valley View unique is the fact that these therapeutic tools define the structure and the boundaries of the program in a manner which the boys accept early on, so they can devote their best energy to other things. The system is used to trigger communication, but not to define ultimate success or failure in the school. The boys understand that they set their own level by their own behavior, and feel empowered by the system, rather than stifled by it. While I did encounter some negativity and complaining among the boys, not once did I hear a complaint about the levels system.

With the “system” in the background, the boys set about the business of learning and growing, always with someone to listen and talk and help them achieve success academically and socially. I found self-consciousness about personal growth issues less here than at most structured boarding schools, and a general acceptance and contentment with the surroundings. There was a similarity to conventional boarding schools with respect to issues like academic achievement, college admission, and what to do about a test tomorrow or an activity next week.

Student life is largely centered on activities with other Valley View students. Personal choice in going off campus is tied into the level system, as are many off campus group activities. There is a sense of competitiveness in athletics similar to conventional boarding schools, although size (42) restricts the range of sports offerings. Valley View offers its student elective foreign and domestic group travel opportunities.

I like Valley view. In considering a referral, I would assess a latency age boy very differently than an adolescent. I would consider referring a latency age boy if they were hyperactive or had other behaviors which seemed to be beyond his control, but who was also actively seeking approval and positive relationships with adults. A fairly bright early adolescent boy who is depressed, who is having trouble learning how to handle his hormones, who has not managed to live constructively with ADHD, who is manipulative, or who is testing parents consistently around normal adolescent issues, but is not severely oppositional, hostile, combative, conduct disordered, nor though disordered, not suicidal, would be a candidate for Valley View.

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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