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Schools & Program Visits - Jun, 1996 Issue #40 

Provo, Utah
Judy Thaxton, Director of Admissions
Lon's Visit: January 30, 1996

Provo Canyon School has a reputation for successfully working with hard-to-work with kids, including those who have a pattern of chronic running away. In the past, they had a reputation as a rather harsh place, somewhat deserved (see the 1991 visit report in WR Issue #12, October 1991). Visiting again after five years, I saw significant changes, and much of the harsher element that had been seen as necessary for their particular population in the past are no longer part of the Provo Canyon curriculum. For example, the Time Out rooms, which were frequently used in the past for students to stand in to work off time for infractions are now mostly empty, used only when a child badly needs a "cooling off" period. 

Another random observation. In 1991, when students were moving between classes, the ones I saw were filing single file and quiet. On this visit, when passing between classes, they were more relaxed, walking together and talking, looking more like a normal school. 

In other words, a lot has changed in the climate of Provo Canyon since my visit five years ago, and in the direction of more nurturing and skill building, with a much less impression of breaking down old negative habits of thinking. This is not to say that it has become softer, or less effective. It is saying they are growing with experience and as they learn from experience, discarding elements that might be interpreted or reacted to as punitive, and replacing them with elements that are nurturing and skill building approaches that have been proved to be more effective, or at least as effective in working with this population. 

In essence, Provo Canyon is a treatment center, and is high on what I call the structure spectrum. It is fully accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) . Thus, they move children through their program by a structured system of steadily increasing privileges as the child earns those privileges. They also are very flexible in their ability to provide psychiatric assistance and therapy for a wide range of disorders. For this reason, if you have a child with severe acting out problems or serious emotional and/or mental conditions, Provo Canyon will probably be able to help them. 

In recent years they have added a strong Recreational Therapy element. Calling it "Therapy without walls," the children regularly are engaged in activities outdoors, all designed to not only be recreational, but more importantly, to work on the lessons each specifically need to learn. 

They also are doing more phone therapy. With a population from all over the country, it is very difficult for parents to travel to Provo more than a very few times for family work. As a consequence, Provo Canyon has developed ways of using the phone so parents can be more involved in the therapeutic process with their child. Using the phone, weekly family therapy sessions are a minimum. The therapists I talked to were satisfied that this was an important expansion of their therapeutic service, often accomplishing results beyond what they were able to do in the past without as much parent involvement. 

Along with this is an increasing emphasis on aftercare, so the child and family can have a familiar resource to fall back on when necessary. 

The academics continue to be strong. All elements of the program provide heavy support for academic endeavors, and they emphasize that they do all they can to not let therapy interfere with the child academics. The academic goal for each child is to progress toward a diploma, and they follow a traditional curriculum to facilitate transfer of credits to other schools. They have the resources to help anyone from honors students to students having serious learning disabilities. 

An interesting observation by staff was a comparison of how their students have changed over the years. It could be a reflection of how our society has changed since Provo Canyon was founded in 1971, or perhaps might just be a reflection of a change in the types of students that are coming their way. 

The staff claim a dramatic increase in children with abandonment issues, and with co-dependent parents. This would seem to suggest there might have been an increase in parents who have forgotten how to raise children, along with an increase in the number of parents who are going to protect their children up to the point of protecting them from themselves. 

This might relate to some of the other staff observations, that their present population is more insecure and vulnerable than their population in the past. Another observation that the kids seem to be sicker and more messed up sounds more subjective and might or might not mean anything. 

Provo Canyon obviously has changed with the times, changing needs of the students, and is doing it in a more nurturing and personal skill building without losing sight of the goal of helping children change who have serious problems. 

Copyright 1995, 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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