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Schools & Program Visits - Jul, 2000 Issue #71 

A Better Way/Coral Reef Academy
David Smyth

Provo, Utah 84605
(801) 796-9602

A four day in-depth visit by Jared U. Balmer, Ph.D. of  Island View Residential Treatment Center Syracuse, Utah
(801) 773-0200

In one of those seedy looking restaurants in Apia, Western Samoa, over a fabulous meal, the father and mother of one of the boys at the Coral Reef Academy recounted to me the content of a meeting they had earlier that day with the program’s faculty. Knowing that I would personally spend the next four days at the academy, I was not so much interested in their systematic description of the program. After all, I didn’t want them to prejudice my own findings. However, there was one part of the conversation that spoke volumes to me, and indeed, I took notice. The father indicated that he felt very comfortable about his son being there because many of the staff members spoke very passionately about his son. Indeed, some staff members had to make frequent use of Kleenex as they explained their observations, hopes, investment and feelings for the young man. Clearly, those parents felt that their son was under the supervision and care of very passionate staff that took a very personal approach to every one of its residents. 

It came as no surprise to me when my personal observations of the “staff in action” confirmed the message I heard from those parents. Clearly, this is the heart of any good program and I had not to look very far to find ample evidence of this treatment approach. It became overwhelmingly evident that this aspect of programming is the driving force of the Coral Reef Academy.

Over the past year, David Smyth and Rodney Rice have retooled the program by assembling very talented and committed staff who have clearly elevated the academy in scope, direction and programming. What follows is a brief summary of my impression of all aspects of their program, based on personal observations.

Education — I was particularly struck by the “Dynamic Duo;” two teachers from England who are obviously very close to all the fourteen boys who are there. I observed that students were all on task and benefited from ample individual attention. Clearly, all students demonstrated deference and were “connected” to those teachers. Students worked on individual packets coordinated through Brigham Young University Extension Services. These well- developed subject packets were augmented by interesting research projects in and outside of the classroom. In addition to running a well-disciplined classroom, “ the Dynamic Duo” is very much involved in a host of recreational and cultural activities. Can you tell that I wouldn’t mind if these guys worked for me? 

Sport and Recreation — On an island the size of Western Samoa, it was somewhat surprising to find the presence of such a great variety of recreational activities. Not only were the boys regularly involved at a well-equipped local gymnasium; they also participated in daily staples of water rugby, and volleyball. Literally all students enthusiastically embraced other outdoor sports, with snorkeling, sea kayaking, and exploration of the island taking place regularly. The most adventurous of the staff have recently blazed trails into a course of several waterfalls and swimming holes situated deep in the Island’s interior. We were able to hike into the lower end of the waterfall systems and were “blown away” by the untouched beauty of the rain forest. Based on the interviews I conducted with many of the boys, and the on photographs taken the day they arrived, I could see that physical fitness has taken its healthy toll! 

Therapy — Coral Reef Academy provides strong weekly individual, group and (telephonic) family therapy. It is obvious that the program has gone to great lengths to keep open lines of communication with families and referring professionals. Regular e-mail photographs are sent to provide visual images of residents in various aspects of program immersion. Group therapy depended on the able skills of Mike Geffeney, a licensed master’s level therapist from California, to drive the process. Resourceful students who had been in the program for several months had a good grasp on the issues, as was demonstrated by the way they were able to aid the several new residents who have recently entered the program. The chemical dependency group format was quite similar to a strong AA/NA big Book meeting in which group leadership rotated among youth who presented stories and other material designed to provide inspiration, support and direction in the recovery process. All clinical record keeping is extremely detailed and serves as an excellent resource for staff, family and referring professionals alike. At Coral Reef Academy, there is real therapy going on. 

Student Life and Cultural Immersion — If you are looking for a cultural immersion program, they got it. Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of the Coral Reef Academy is the blend of Samoan culture and customs with therapeutic interventions. The Samoan people, despite immense material poverty, bask in the wealth of wonderfully supportive village, family, and community relationships. The elderly are respected and well cared for. Decisions affecting a community involve input from a wide cross section of village elders, local chief, government representatives and even outsiders in cases when they are affected by the decision. All participants must unanimously support decisions in these counsels. Milestones such as birthdays, homecomings, graduations, promotions, etc. are cause for celebration by all. Gifts are given freely; song, dance and food are a part of almost weekly special events, which tend to include all. Kimball DeLaMare and I were welcomed by dance and song as were families visiting their children on the island. As the youth of the program become exposed to such a culture, they become naturally less narcissistic and exclusionary. 

The fact that the vast majority of the child-care workers who are responsible for around-the-clock supervision, are natives, makes such a cultural immersion program possible. The program director Breda Faitua, a Samoan chief with a master’s degree in Education and English Literature, demonstrated a great deal of sensitivity and warmth, which is also manifested in the staff. All fourteen boys (A Better Way no longer enrolls girls) appeared very healthy and indeed were proud to display their new learned Samoan ways through dance, dress and other cultural participation. 

Summary – I found Coral Reef Academy to be a very engaging, small therapeutic program. Educational, therapeutic and recreational processes are delivered in a planned, systematic way by a small group of highly committed professionals. The fact that the program employs over 20 full time employees (I met them all) speaks volumes about the owners’ commitment to supervision, care and seamless programming. 

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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