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Schools & Program Visits - Jul, 1999 Issue #59 

Austinburg, Ohio
Keith Corlew, Director of Admission

Lon’s Visit Report: May 11, 1999

He was rather cute when he was bragging about being on the honor role this year, pointing out he had a 0.0 grade point average at his last school. I wasn’t sure which he was more proud of, how well he was doing this year at Grand River Academy, or how low he had sunk at his last school. In either case, he was one of a whole string of boys in the school’s student union that came up to me during my visit who were doing far better at Grand River Academy than in their previous schools. These spontaneously provided student reviews ranged from how much Grand River Academy had helped them, to objections to what was perceived as overly rigid rules and unnecessary interference with their freedom. One critic (who admitted his grades were much better than before), apparently wanting to warn me against referring boys to the school, ended his comments with “Save the children! Don’t send them here!” Overall, pretty typical adolescent boys.

Grand River Academy has a reputation of enrolling boys who have been failing, and then not giving up on them easily. This doesn’t include students with serious behavioral problems. Those they screen out. Their focus is on boys who have not been performing academically, whose behavioral problems primarily stem from failure, boredom, etc. As a consequence, a large percentage of the 117-boy student body has been diagnosed with a variety of Learning Differences, ADD and ADHD. The exact numbers this year are 15-17 documented LD, about 50 labeled ADD, and a handful are labeled ADHD. An almost universal issue each boy is wrestling with is an exaggerated and distorted sense of exactly what freedom is all about.

The School’s academic approach is multi-faceted, which allows the school to meet a wide variety of needs within the context of a traditional curriculum. They have a number of programs and approaches designed to allow them to individualize each student’s experience. First, they routinely teach to difference learning styles in the classroom. Not only does this provide the advantage of repetition, but each lesson is presented several times in ways most suitable for various learning styles.

Next, a resource room is always available during class hours and is used as a substitute for the regular study hall both for those students with identified learning differences and those needing extra help at the time. The focus in the resource room is providing mainstream support for the student in his classes instead of remediation. This avoids the student feeling like they are on a “loser” track, which sometimes happens in resource rooms in other schools.

Overall, there is no set track academically; each boy’s schedule is based on what he needs. This allows individual flexibility, and avoids the problems of rigidity that sometimes develop elsewhere, when the student is automatically forced to follow a rigid pre-planned course of study.

The social side of the school includes many techniques commonly emphasized by the more intensely structured Emotional Growth Schools. Part of that is the primary emphasis the school has on relationships, with rules coming second. Discipline and consequences reflect this emphasis, since discipline is individualized to the circumstances of the student as well as the overall situation. Also, parents are encouraged to have an active role in their student’s life, as much as is feasible. Thus parents are invited to the school to take part in activities as much as they can, and the school encourages students to go home on weekends, when feasible. The attitude is one of working as a team with the parents, rather than one of, “we’ll fix your kid for you.”

This last year the school initiated ropes course activities. This was an in-service activity for the staff, and for twelve student leaders. This was part of the response to complaints made last year by some boys that “hazing” was becoming a serious problem. The ropes course, re-distribution of students in the dorms, and bringing the issue to the attention of the faculty was all initiated to encourage older mature students to help the younger and smaller students. By all accounts, hazing has virtually disappeared and the campus seems to be running much more smoothly.

Another part of the discipline policy is what is called a Work Detail. A common technique of Emotional Growth Schools, a Work Detail is assigned when a student does something that is disruptive, contrary to clearly stated rules, and/or related to poor relationships. In an attempt to consciously avoid the trap of being manipulated by students who argue the details and specific wording of the rules, the staff uses the Parent/Student Handbook as a general guideline and starting point, with interpretation depending on the overall situation.

A common consequence for a first time offense or a minor problem, might be raking the grass, or some other useful task around the school, when the student might prefer to be doing something more fun. More serious consequences might be an in-school suspension, or an out of school suspension. An out-of-school suspension might consist of going home to face the parents, disrupting their lives. If that is not feasible, then the school has arrangements where the student can work on a farm during the suspension. Every effort is made to have appropriate consequences for misbehavior.

Some of the students are clueless regarding social conventions. Boys who need help in this area meet each Tuesday to discuss appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Students inevitably bring up situations that are then explored in terms of what behaviors were incorrect and what could have been done instead.

The school welcomes applications from the more intense Emotional Growth schools and programs. They prefer to have an educational consultant involved, since that helps with the screening and provides an objective history, but that is not mandatory. When a student does come from a highly structured Emotional Growth School or Program, they require the student to be a successful graduate from that program. They will not consider a student who is being withdrawn early from a program for any reason. The most important thing is that the applicant can show he has dealt with his emotional issues. The school has found that when an applicant meets these criteria, he will most likely be very successful at Grand River Academy, very frequently taking on leadership responsibilities.

Grand River Academy has a tradition dating back to 1831. The present name was adopted in 1949. In 1962 a high school was added and the elementary school portion was dropped, thus taking on the form which it has today. The emphasis since 1933 has been for a total learning experience rather than purely classroom experiences. With a student population of 117 boys, and located in a rural area outside Cleveland, Ohio, Grand River Academy seems to be taking a leadership role in learning how to provide a traditional curriculum that is effective with graduates of those intense Emotional Growth Schools. In addition, it seems to be working well with students who were having problems, but didn’t need the intense solution provided by highly structured schools and programs. This visit was a return after a quick visit I made last year. The campus feels safer than it did last year, reflecting the success of the new initiatives put into place.

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.)

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