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Schools & Program Visits - Feb, 1994 Issue #26 

A November 1993 Drop-in
by: Linda Shaffer 

Popping in unexpectedly to visit a school, and having only a couple of hours, is hardly time enough to write a comprehensive school visit report. However, here goes a short report on a short visit -- to The John Dewey Academy

First impression. The castle. With the castle wall around it. An incredible edifice, to say the least, set in 80 grassed and treed acres just off the main business street of Great Barrington, Mass. in the heart of the Berkshires. And then the good news -- a student sweeping the front steps at 8:30 on a Sunday morning. 

With a student tour guide, one soon finds out that enrollment at a school in the Searles castle does not mean the life of a waited-upon princess or prince. For a student with a lukewarm willingness to enroll in this college prep, residential, therapeutic high school, however, the castle's beauty, warmth and intrigue might be just enough to urge a struggling adolescent to take that leap off the cliff into introspection. Tis a far, far better choice (for the appropriate student) than the road to juvenile hall or being inappropriately hospitalized. 

In addition to being exposed to rigorous academic and therapeutic programs, under the direction of Dr. Tom Bratter, founder, students at The John Dewey Academy basically run the castle operation. Mow the 80 acres. Dust the marble sculptures. Plan, cook and serve the meals. And order the food. Vacuum the living room(s). Maintain their own living quarters in a tidy, comfortable, warm fashion. And they are proud to let a visitor know they occasionally offer parts of the castle to the community of Great Barrington for weddings and receptions, and participate in various types of community service. 

John Dewey students also know they will not be expected to study together in a monitored study hall, but in their own rooms developing the self discipline to graduate from high school and be prepared for the independence of college life. If you don't take John Dewey seriously, they don't take you. 

Then there is the $25 in the center desk drawer of Tom Bratter available to any student who decides to "take off." (On the day of my visit, one "runaway" student had returned just the night before and was being reminded that he needed, in returning himself, to return the $25 also). Bratter's no nonsense directness and obvious care for his students and the school are an intriguing mixture that might catch the new student off guard. Wow, this guy means business, but he knows I can do it. 

An oppressive castle life? Cold? It didn't seem so one Sunday in November. I saw in the students I met energy, life, honesty about issues and directions. And when asked what is the best about The John Dewey Academy, the reply was -- the care. As one student said -- Everywhere I turn here there is someone to talk to, someone who cares -- students and staff. And, here I really have a shot at my college dreams. (100 per cent of John Dewey Academy graduates go on to some of the country's finest colleges.)  

Copyright 1994, 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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