News & Views - Aug,
1999 Issue #60
Advice To Prospective Parents...
From The Head Of A College
Preparatory, Therapeutic School
By: Tom Bratter
John Dewey Academy,
Great Barrington, MA.
Special school’s admissions personnel retain a vested interest in persuading
students to attend. They are public relations specialists. While not receiving bonuses when exceeding quotas, most assuredly they
prefer to fill a bed rather than have it empty. The “admissions game” goal is to increase enrollment. Stated succinctly and simply,
these super sales persons know how to play this game, especially when you are desperate, frightened, and demoralized, enabling them
to make an easy sale. Often in a state of panic due to the recent crisis/es caused by the adolescent’s awesomely self-destructive
behavior, you need to control frustration, fear, and anger by asking the admissions personnel questions. Inquire about the strengths
and weaknesses of the school, its goals, the kind of student who does well, and what are other comparable programs. Frequently, you
are so demoralized, you neglect to consider intermediate to long-term goals.
If the special purpose school is college preparatory, for example, ascertain
what percentage of the graduates attends college, and which institutions? Every school has a few graduates who have been admitted
by colleges of quality but what about the majority; where do they attend?
Encourage admissions personnel to talk, because they will not know what spin
to use. Unless asked specific questions, admissions professionals will use generalities, talk glibly, persuasively, and be positive.
Beware of promises.
Recognize when a school supplies a list of references, these are “success”
stories, so their reports will be positive. No school wants prospective parents to converse with “failures.” It is possible to learn
as much from a “failure” as a “success” by asking good questions: “What caused the failure?” “Was it the student, the school, and/or
the family?” “What happened?” Did the family support or sabotage the school?” When the student tests limits at The John Dewey Academy,
rather than exiling their son or daughter to the streets by changing the locks, we urge the family to find another residential program.
While temporarily comforting to find any port in the symbolic storm, recognize
you retain control and a choice because there are many special purpose schools. Your goal, therefore, is to obtain as much information
as you can in order to make an informed decision, because there are profound program differences. While some schools will claim they
can help all adolescents, this is dishonest.
Since placement in a special purpose school will determine the future quality
of life, seek competent assistance.
Finding a special purpose school is similar to selecting a stock in which
to invest. There are hundreds of sources of information—television, magazines, the Internet, brokerage reports, ad nauseam. Everyone
has an opinion and a source. While the stock market reaches new highs, perhaps it does not matter because it is easy for everyone
to be a genius. Some brokerage companies recommend stocks that they brought public, which is a conflict of interest since they retain
a vested monetary interest.
The drop-out rate of special purpose schools needs to be considered. The
John Dewey Academy’s drop-out rate is 33%, because its mission is the most ambitious, which can create stress. Since our primary goal
is to be college preparatory, our program is also voluntary. If successful, the payoff is the greatest. Graduation from a college
of quality not only seals the past but also maximizes future educational, professional, and social options.
Do not be fooled by slick brochures. Public relations specialists have prepared
much of what is written about the school, so the school’s Internet web page may not accurately reflect information about the school,
or its quintessential aspects. While most schools attempt to portray themselves as capable of working with all adolescents, this is
There are profound program differences. Obviously this information is essential
to make an informed decision, maximizing the chances of future success. Most schools permit medication; The John Dewey Academy rejects
pharmacological approaches. The Elan School, for example, during the day does “treatment,” and at night has academics. Most schools
will not admit students older than 17, The John Dewey Academy does. The next step for many graduates of special purpose schools is
to become employed, while The John Dewey Academy seeks to place graduates into the most competitive colleges in the country. The class
of 1999 will attend Brown, Clark, Columbia, two Cornell Universities and Vassar College; so unless this is your goal, forget about
If given the option to converse with students, often selected by the school,
ask about the merits and liabilities. Remember, it could actually be praise, when a student complains that the school is demanding.
Never forget the reason(s), why you sent your son or daughter to a safe, structured, supportive, residential program. Never forget
your terror. Your son and daughter need to change negative, self-destructive, illicit behavior patterns. Change often is not easy
and is painful. There is a reason why most schools recommend no less than eighteen months. It takes time for the student to internalize
more proactive values.
It is crucial to ascertain the credentials of schools that purport to be
college preparatory. Are they “accredited” by appropriate state agencies? Discovering the licenses and accreditations the school has
is important because they determine the primary identity of the educational program. If licensed as a special education facility and/or
a hospital, for example, this would suggest academics have been compromised. It is important to know how many students are involuntary
and have been referred by state agencies. Inquire about the credentials of the staff. From what colleges did they graduate? Which
graduate degrees do the faculty possess? What is the rate of turn-over? At what kinds of educational institutions have the faculty
Don’t panic. Seek competent help. Define intermediate to long- term goals.
Make informed decisions based on information from many sources. Good luck.
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.)