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Schools & Program Visits - Aug, 1996 Issue #41 

At Camp Elliott 
Catherine Buie-Jennings, Director
Black Mountain, North Carolina
Lon's Visit: June 27-28, 1996

Going down the twisty, gravel road to Stone Mountain School a few miles outside the small resort town of Black Mountain, North Carolina in the Appalachian Mountains is a mountain driving experience. It is very obvious you have left civilization behind. 

Pulling into the parking lot by the main office building first gives a view of a small lake. (It seems everyone with property in North Carolina has a lake in the middle of it, especially schools and camps). The next glance is of rustic summer camp style buildings (needed repairs and remodeling is ongoing this summer). One of the days I was there included a parent's visit, and families were in boats and groups dotted around the lake shore, or swimming, or fishing. Those boys who did not have families visiting went into town, so that all had something special that day. The sense was one of a peaceful and constructive environment. 

Director Catherine Jenning's family has been running camps and schools since 1971, so she grew up in the business. As her own endeavor, she and her staff have been running a summer camp for children with special needs (Talisman Summer Camp) for 16 years as a private pay facility, at a very reasonable cost. Building on their summer camp success, and armed with state contracts, she launched Stone Mountain School last year by leasing another property in North Carolina that had been used as a summer camp for years. 

Stone Mountain School was to be a long term school based on the long term camping model originally developed by John Loughmiller. This model is the one also used by Eckerd Family Youth Alternatives and Three Springs Outdoor Treatment Programs. Some of the boys she enrolled had been quite resistant at first, but seemed to be responding well to the structure and program by the time of my visit. From what I saw, they were engaged in their classes and were polite and responsive to staff. However, the state changed its rules mid-stream and have changed their approval from a year long program to a maximum of 90 days. With this change, which Catherine and her staff feel is too short to be effective with these boys, Stone Mountain is changing course to one of private placements, using the successful model that had been working for them in both the summer camp and at Stone Mountain School. 

Stone Mountain is for boys ages 10 to 18 who are physically able to participate in a rigorous outdoor program. They will not accept boys with problems like fire- setting, homicidal or suicidal ideations, active psychosis or other severe psychiatric conditions. The school is not geared to handle severe problems such as these, nor do they want to take students with these problems. None of the boys there at the time of my visit seemed to be what would be considered hard, or violent, boys. 

Academics is emphasized at Stone Mountain School, focused on success-building techniques utilizing experiential classroom instruction and individualized study. In the class I observed, the teacher seemed to be responsive to the mood, interests, and energy level of the students. Each student starts from an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which has clear, measurable objectives that each student clearly understands and has a say in. This is followed up by regular goal-setting activities. A simplified levels system is used. As a student demonstrates proficiency at one level, the student moves up to the next level and of course gains the expanded privileges of that level. 

The first level focuses on the very basics such as keeping clean and neat, keeping their personal space clean and neat, and doing personal chores such as making their bed, and proper use of group tools. Level II relates to the student discovering his role within the community, and Level III relates to learning how to help himself and others. 

The students looked good at Stone Mountain School and were working on their issues. The school was carrying on despite the transition and upgrading of facilities that were going on in the background. I also spent a couple hours on the other property at Talisman Summer Camp. Without any transition going on there, the camp was routinely carrying on with their campers with special needs, looking like things were going very smooth. 

Considering the determination of Director Catherine Jennings, I expect Stone Mountain School to be up to that speed very shortly. I would consider either facility as a prospect for placement for the appropriate child. 

Copyright 1996, 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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