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Schools & Program Visits - Jun, 1996 Issue #40 

Provo, Utah
Tori Ballard, Admissions Director
Lon's Visit: January 30, 1996 

Discovery Academy is housed in an old church that exudes all the charm from an earlier era. Years ago, what they call "The Ivy Tower" became a restaurant, and again for a time a Dance Hall. When Discovery Academy took possession, a lot of mess and history had to be cleaned up. (Tori Ballard's office was the deep freeze - with heat now of course). The building has stairs wandering off in various directions to small dorms nestled in nooks and crannies along the way. Toward the front, where classes are held, it is light and airy, from the skylight that was built for restaurant dining. 

They emphasize that the Academy is a school, and the school's atmosphere and design of the building support that sense. The student population they focus on are "underachievers" who have been increasingly demonstrating alienation or defiance toward their families, schools, and/or communities. They are not looking for students with radical out-of-control behaviors, or serious anti-social problems. They are looking for students who are failing in school, are floundering, and need a tight structure and support to turn their discouragement and low confidence around. It is important to the staff that the students feel they are at a "normal" school, and the school's philosophy and setting are both conducive to that. 

The academics are performance based and individualized. That means that a student can progress as fast or as slow as is appropriate for that student. In addition, any resource that a student needs is available to that student when he/she needs it. The appearance of their classes were unique in my experience. The noise level was fairly high when I was visiting, partly because several classes were in the same room, but as any experienced teacher would recognize, it was busy and constructive noise, not "goofing off" noise. Each student was working on his/her assignment, attended to by a teacher when special help was needed and a hand raised. Some were quietly working on their own. Others were asking questions of the teachers, and in some situations, students were working together, and in other situations and times a teacher and class would be carrying on a discussion. 

Their system of approaching this was roughly that every subject was broken down into a series of assignments. It was the student's responsibility to master that assignment, either by doing the related exercises, or asking a teacher or another student for help when something was unclear. The teachers monitored all the students to make sure they were "on task." Upon completion of an assignment by an individual student, a test was requested. If that indicated mastery of the material, then the student returned the material to the storeroom and received the next assignment in the series. In this way, there was the vital interactions with the teacher (at times when most helpful), interactions with other students, but the material was individualized and the student could progress at his or her own speed with no sense of competition with other students (which all too often contributes to negative attitudes toward school and learning). 

Counseling and group was ongoing, giving the opportunity for students to work on those personal issues that had caused them to be enrolled in Discovery Academy in the first place. As in the academics, there is a lot of individualized attention given to each student and his/her issues. A lot of this can happen because of a staff: student ratio of about one staff to two students. 

The rest of the student's time is devoted to recreational activities and keeping his/her room and possessions in order. Recreation is both on campus (the building includes a gym, and taking advantage of off campus facilities in the community. They are fully accredited as a "Special Purpose School" by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges and the State of Utah. It is also licensed by the State of Utah's Department of Human Services. 

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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