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Schools & Program Visits - Feb, 2000 Issue #66 

Timber Ridge School
Winchester, VA
John M. Markwood, PhD.,
Executive Director

Visit Report By Carol Maxym
November 12, 1999

Arriving a few hours later than planned, our tour of Timber Ridge School had to take place in the autumn darkness. Nevertheless, it was possible to see that the campus is large and well kept. I visited with three other consultants, Phyllis Kozokoff, Nancy Coulbourn Ike, and Nancy Cadwallader on a tour sponsored by Three Springs. Our initial introduction to members of the staff, the board of directors, and the student council was more formal than most. The boys were dressed up—one of them even in jacket and tie and looked fine. They took us on our tour. As is usual, some of the boys were more immediately open and talkative than others. 

I quickly fell into conversation with a young man who already had been in more programs than I could count on my fingers. He hoped to be leaving Timber Ridge soon, having made real changes in himself. He told me that what had made the difference for him at Timber Ridge was the support system, both from the staff and from the friends he had made. 

Other boys described the daily life, the structure and system of the school. Timber Ridge is a residential treatment center for boys 11-17 years old (although all the boys we met were in the older age range). Although there is a history of private payers, currently all students are placed and paid for by public agencies: social services, school districts, and the courts. The average IQ is about 105-110, but Timber Ridge will take boys with IQs of 85 or even below if the verbal skills are good. Occasionally extremely bright boys arrive at Timber Ridge, and for them community college courses are made available. Most of the boys come from Virginia and surrounding states, but there are boys from other states. 

The detailed system of Merits and Demerits provide the working structure for the discipline of the school: Demerits result in punishments (standing up against the wall); Merits accumulate to earn privileges (going to town). Dr. John Markwood explained the boys need to learn more than just how to stop behaving badly; they also have to learn to demonstrate good behavior. I asked about fighting or violence among the students, and I was assured that is extremely uncommon and dealt with by the staff in a strict manner. Horseplay is not allowed, but as the boys gain more and more independence, I heard that it does happen when staff is not around. 

Students attend group and individual therapy based on Glasser’s Reality Therapy. The goal is for the boys to understand in simple terms why they did what they did that landed them at Timber Ridge. Timber Ridge has also developed the curriculum for a character education in which eighteen core values (patience, fidelity, chastity, trustworthiness, etc.) are discussed. The goal is for each boy to clarify for himself how he feels about each value. Parental involvement is encouraged. 

The school has been in existence for 30 years and has worked with more than 1000 students. The facilities we saw are new, well- appointed, comfortable, and practical, but some of the buildings date from the beginning of the century. Located about half an hour from Winchester, this is not a locked facility. Boys do have the opportunity to earn the right to go into town for various activities; at first they are closely supervised, later they are allowed to go independently. Boys can earn the opportunity to spend the weekend in town or elsewhere. Some boys are even allowed cars, and some hold jobs. I asked one student if that ever posed some problems such as drugs being brought onto the campus, and the answer was that it did, but that the drugs would usually be found rather promptly. 

The boys praised the academics because they can work at their own pace. We were taken into the library—new and congenial for studying. They boys claimed that no one ever uses it, but when we mentioned that at dinner, the staff laughed, saying on the contrary, it was used quite a bit. Moreover, they were planning an organized study hall to be held there in the evening. 

Timber Ridge felt somewhat like a comfortable boot camp—although not really that tough or strict. I did not have the feeling of any sort of spirituality or warm fuzzies, but that does not speak against the program. The atmosphere is different from other programs, and that makes sense, I think, considering the population they serve. 

I would have liked to have spent more time at Timber Ridge and had the opportunity to visit some classes, have a meal, watch the day go by Timber Ridge style, but it was not possible this visit. Nevertheless, for the boy for whom there are few choices (e.g., due to court and/or social services interventions), this could be a viable alternative. Currently there are no private paying students, and indeed, at $72,000, the price seems rather high. Dr. Markwood informs me that for private payers they might try to find some support from the school itself in order to lower that number. 

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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