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Schools & Program Visits - Feb, 1999 Issue #56 


Santa Fe, New Mexico
Gary Emmons, Headmaster
Lon’s Visit: January 28, 1999 

As the student body President, she looked and acted like most student body Presidents I’ve ever met – enthusiastic, big welcoming smile, leadership potential, and good grades. Obviously Brush Ranch School suited her very well. 

It wasn’t always so! Before she came to Brush Ranch School, she had been a marginal student at best. She had struggled with her classes, had been in her share of low functioning dead end classes, had acted out her frustrations some, and had attended several different schools as her parents struggled to find one she could succeed at. Then when her parents focused on the fact she had special learning needs and enrolled her at Brush Ranch School, she got the specialized help she needed to succeed in a college prep curriculum. This seems to be a common story among the school’s students. Headmaster Gary Emmons estimates their average student advances academically 1 ˝ years every nine-month school year at Brush Ranch School. 

The school is fairly unique among LD schools in that they recognize learning problems often are accompanied by acting out behaviors. They also prefer the term “Learning Differences,” feeling the term “Learning Disabilities” tends to stigmatize a student both in the student’s self-image as well as in the eyes of the world. 

Thus in admissions screening, they will not automatically screen out an applicant for acting out or depression type behaviors. The school will accept a child with minor acting our or depression behaviors if it appears those behaviors stem primarily from the frustrations of continual school failure, and those behaviors are likely to disappear once the child starts being successful in challenging academics. 

The 283 acre campus straddles the Pecos River about 100 miles northeast of Albuquerque. The river runs very clear at this point and I hear it is full of trout just waiting for staff or students to come after them. The canyon is tree covered and narrow, giving rise to short sunlight hours in the winter. 

Comfortably Rustic is the term that comes to mind. It has a summer camp look, because it has been adapted from just that for the school year. Most of the buildings have been there for some time, with a log cabin style tending to predominate, although a new gym has been built that is especially popular in the winter months when days are short, snow is high, and temperatures plunge. 

Gary Emmons has been Headmaster of the school for three years, trying to sharpen the focus of the school within several held over factors. In the past, the school enrolled students with more difficult problems than they do now, some of whom are still attending. For example, there are three students with Asburger Syndrome (in lay terms, Asburger Syndrome refers to children with something akin to Autism in social skills – they just don’t get it socially). These three students are doing well in the School environment, which is a source of pride by Emmons. But, the internal staff discussions center around how much staff time and energy these students take away from the rest of the student body. Since these students have been there for years, the decision has been to support them until they graduate. But they now are screening out students with similar problems so as to specialize more effectively working with average to bright children with learning differences. 

Another concern is post graduation needs. The school puts a lot of effort into helping the graduates find a college or work situation that is just right. This has led to discussions about the possibility of developing a post-graduate program, perhaps in Santa Fe, which would give some graduates the option of moving on, but with whatever continuing support they need from the school they already have a good relationship with. 

These are problems Headmaster Emmons inherited, and are ones that will take some time to resolve. In the meantime, the students looked good, seem to be getting their needs met, and Emmons has good staff and is balancing everything necessary to meet the student’s current needs, while the other issues will resolve themselves.

Copyright © 2000, 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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