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Schools & Program Visits - Mar, 2000 Issue #67 

Aspen Achievement Academy
Loa, Utah
Gilbert Hallows, MA 
Executive Director
(435) 836-2472 

Visit Report by Jodi Tuttle
October, 1999

Aspen Achievement Academy is a treatment program committed to guiding students and their families toward developing skills and internalizing principles that facilitate positive personal growth. The program is located in Utah’s Canyon lands region, where hundred-mile vistas of ancient rock formations offer a unique perspective of one’s place in time and space, allowing students to experience the intertwining of scenery, history, and culture. In this unique desert where acres of “slickrock” roll at the feet of colorful mountain peaks, students grow to feel a kinship with the Pueblo Peoples who, in centuries past, left behind, clustered in alcoves or etched on sheer walls, the reminders of their journey. 

This program, which serves males and females between the ages of 13-17, averages 49 – 51 days in length. Aspen specializes in working with adolescents who have a history of emotional and behavioral problems, low self-esteem, depression, academic underachievement, substance abuse and family conflict. Diagnostic categories include Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Bi-polar Disorder, Substance Abuse, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Conduct Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

The program consists of experiential education and therapy in an outdoor setting. The therapeutic component of the program consists of a treatment team selected for each student on the basis of the particular issues he or she faces. A treatment team consists of field staff, a teacher and a therapist, who establish the treatment plan goals for each student in their group. 

Aspen’s educational curriculum, with its experiential approach, teaches students personal responsibility for their learning process. The school is recognized by the Utah State Board of Education to operate as a special alternative school designed to reach students at risk. Students may receive one full credit equally divided among English, Science, Sociology and Physical Education or they may elect to receive semester credits in two of the four subject areas offered. 

Students move through the phases of Mouse, Coyote, Buffalo, and Eagle to accomplish their objectives for completing the program. Objectives in the Mouse level include resolution of anger about their placement and acceptance of the fact that they were admitted to Aspen because their parents care about them. Students learn that they must involve themselves in the process of change. 

In the Coyote phase, students take on the coyote metaphor, in that a coyote can learn to adapt to almost any environment and find nourishment for themselves and other pack members under the most severe conditions. Coyote symbolizes student attempts to develop character and to change and adapt positively when faced with struggle and adversity. They also learn the value of accepting help from others. In this phase they learn to make a bow drill fire and other survival skills and begin the experiential education process. 

When students move into the Buffalo phase, they learn the metaphor of the buffalo and how that impacts their lives and others around them. The metaphor of the buffalo is that they are always seen as part of a group or family and that even though they are individual beings, it is against their nature to act alone or to be incongruent with the needs of the family. In this phase, students reach beyond basic individual survival and develop a higher sense of community, family and consequence. 

In the last phase, the Eagle, the student learns to generalize new skills and attitudes in a way that can transfer into their home and social environments. The eagle is noted for its ability to fly above other birds, and for its keen eyes and senses. From its vantage point, an eagle can anticipate a storm and rise to avoid potential danger or choose to confront the storm. The metaphor of the eagle is used to help students learn appropriate ways to confront challenges to produce healthy growth rather than hopeless struggle. The student learns to see the big picture and is capable of avoiding choices that in the past led to difficulty and unpleasant consequences. 

Parents are invited to participate in a two and one-half day process of learning and family reintegration for the graduation ceremony. This time brings about parent meetings, family solos, family therapy, and multi-family experiential workshops. Students graduate from Aspen with a renewed sense of hope and enthusiasm for the learning process, enabling them to go on to other learning environments with the groundwork laid for continued academic growth and success. 

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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