Schools & Program
Visits - Feb, 1999 Issue #56
BRUSH RANCH SCHOOL
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.)