Schools & Program
Visits - Nov, 1999 Issue #63
Sorenson’s Ranch School
Burnell Sorenson, Admission Director
By Jodi Tuttle, Roving Correspondent
June 22, 1999
“Now this is a serious ranch!” is frequently what consultants remark when
a tour drives through the gate into Sorenson Ranch. This truly authentic ranch, complete with a cattle and horse operation, has been
in the Sorenson family for three generations. It not only has traditional animals, but the barn and barnyard are full of exotic deer,
pigs, sheep, birds, goats and other critters, as well. Burnell Sorenson, owner-admission director, takes pleasure in showing off this
unique ranch when visitors arrive.
Sorenson’s Ranch serves adolescents, ages 13-17, who are experiencing difficulties
with social, family, emotional, behavioral, or substance abuse issues. Burnell and Carol Sorenson, both former schoolteachers, founded
the school on the philosophy that, “There is no such thing as an inherently bad youngster; if one is headed the wrong direction, he/she
needs to be given a chance to see another way of life, and an opportunity to learn constructive attitudes.” They believe that learning
takes place not only in the formal classroom, but in all activities in which a youngster participates. In fact, youngsters at Sorenson
Ranch probably learn as much or more outside the classroom as they do inside the classroom.
The classroom includes the Ranch as well as the surrounding valley and towering
mountains. Located at 7,000 feet elevation, the valley has a juniper-sage climate, which to Utahans, means high desert, with a cool
summer and snow in the winter. The nearest town of any size is 35 miles away, giving Koosharem and environs a wonderful sense of serenity
and isolation. Nearby mountains rise to 12,000 feet with abundant wildlife, ranging from beaver to elk. The location lends itself
to unlimited outdoor opportunities, such as camping, fishing, skiing, and horseback riding. Facilities at the Ranch include a central
lodge, a kitchen/dining area, shop areas for metal, wood, leather, craft and auto repair, classrooms, activity rooms, a gymnasium,
barn, corral, infirmary, therapy/clinical area, and an administration building. Rustic dorms and cabins provide areas for student
The education program at the Ranch is individualized with classes based on
mastery of course objectives rather than “seat time.” Students are able to make up credits lost from their previous schooling because
they receive credits when they master their course objectives. They must achieve a minimum of 80% mastery on each course in order
to pass. If a student doesn’t achieve this score, an ‘incomplete’ grade is given, and the student is tutored until the material is
Sorenson’s Ranch provides plenty of recreation and vocational programs to
keep students busy. These include horsemanship, fishing, water sports, wilderness experience, animal care, nature, sports, winter
activities and vocational skills. Raising and training colts is a major activity at the Ranch. The multitude of horses on the ranch
seems to double when spring arrives, bringing all the new colts. Students work in every aspect of horse training. They begin by teaching
the horse to lead, and eventually begin riding and training the horse when it reaches the third year of its life.
The Ranch’s philosophy that work is good for the body and soul provides students
with ample opportunity to grow in the work program. Students are kept busy and may earn money by spending days hauling hay, cutting
wood, cleaning barns, feeding cattle, doing construction work, or other work projects. There is little time to get into mischief.
The majority of students that I met at the ranch were quite proud of their ranch accomplishments. They proudly showed off the horses
or other animals that they had raised or the horse that they had trained to ride.
The Ranch lends itself to being a place where youngsters can heal from the
impacts of a big-city influence in a more “back-to- nature” environment. The school assists students in fitting back into society
through the use of Individual Treatment Plans designed to fill as many as possible of their social, emotional, academic, and physical
Long term outcomes for students may include receiving a diploma, making up
a grade level, placement in a junior or technical college, or a successful return home. The biggest successes I saw while I was at
Sorenson Ranch were the students who beamed from joy from the accomplishments that their hard work had achieved. What a way for students
to achieve self-esteem!
Copyright © 1999, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced
without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)