Schools & Program
Visits - Oct, 2001 Issue #86
Dan Kemp, Director of Admissions
Visit Report on August 27, 2001
By Loi Eberle, M.A.
Educational Consultant & Editor
Woodbury Reports 208-267-5550
Oakley School is a place that brings hope to those who’ve feared
their adolescent struggles have precluded academic success in a rigorous college environment. It is designed for 14 – 18 year old
adolescents who’ve rekindled their academic aspirations and seek an environment where they can enjoy the activities and challenges
of a college-prep setting without the usual pitfalls. Oakley offers rigorous academics and exciting outdoor activities while maintaining
a campus where drugs, alcohol and sexual activity are prohibited. They also offer a variety of methods for supporting the students
to stay on track.
Dr. Lorin Broadbent and Dr. Jared Balmer founded Oakley School
to create a boarding school with a college preparatory curriculum that included a recreational program. In addition to providing challenging
academics, they also wanted to help students develop leisure skills and self worth. One tool that is used to accomplish this goal
is their “individualized strategic counseling service.” Typically, Oakley students “no longer deny that psycho-social issues have
caused problems in the past and have accepted the notion that involvement in a counseling process is important.” Students enroll at
Oakley from two routes: more restrictive settings, such as a wilderness programs and emotional growth schools and less restrictive
settings such as “regular” schools, or outpatient counseling settings. In either case it is recognized their students will be faced
with stressors, and the school in fact, strives “not only to introduce students to these stressors, but assist to them in successfully
managing the stressors and developing coping skills that will allow them to function.”
The school’s twenty-acre campus is nestled in the mountains about
fifteen miles west of Park City, Utah, where the students can enjoy skiing and snowboarding. The classrooms, administrative offices
and student dorms are in attractive buildings built about four years ago. Upon entering the main building, I was greeted by a spacious
student lounge and dining area where a large rock fireplace divided the two areas, enabling students to enjoy the fire from either
area. Off to each side were hallways full of administrative offices and classrooms. A large wall of windows in the dining room looked
out at the pond, which is surrounded by the student dorms. When the students who were showing me the campus pointed out the part of
the student lounge area that is designated for seniors, I asked why. Their explanation led to a detailed description of the various
privileges enjoyed by the students, based on their academic and therapeutic work and good behavior.
Eventually students earn the privilege to go off campus with the
school policy that “in all cases, overnight off-campus leaves should be linked with a strategic purpose…effective off-campus excursions
can be a powerful ingredient in the process of change.” Even so, the school recognizes that occasionally a student may have “a bad
hair-day.” However, if it becomes “more of a lifestyle as opposed to an occasional slip-up or a temporary phase, the said student
is not appropriate for Oakley.” In fact, one of the students told me it was her second enrollment at Oakley. The first time she was
not able to maintain the required code of behavior and had been asked to leave. This time, she seemed quite clear about her renewed
desire to attend her college of choice, and had chosen not to maintain a relationship. Instead, she was on a sports team and studied
many hours each day.
My student tour guides felt the teachers were friendly and motivated,
imparting a love of the subject matter, at least in these students. Oakley students apparently spend a lot of time doing homework
and the classes are described as rigorous. Formal classes are Monday through Thursday, normally 90 minutes in length and may vary
from 3 to 14 students. Friday and Saturday are reserved for “module” work, with Sundays for free time and student-directed activities.
The modules are self-esteem building activities that are critically linked to three major areas: service to others, acquisition and
mastery of skills and identity formation.
At some point during the student’s enrollment at Oakley School,
he or she participates in the “TRAILS’ experience. Consisting of 1-6 students accompanied by a minimum of two professional staff members,
each individual TRAILS group may have a different focus, depending on the “engineered composition” of the group. In all cases the
TRAILS group has the same purpose, which is to “solidify, or encourage more significant change.” In some cases the group’s activities
may involve leadership experiences, while in others, activities may be focused on working through self-defeating behaviors.
It is true that Oakley’s academic environment can be stressful,
especially for adolescents who have struggled in the past. When a student applies to Oakley the admission staff carefully considers
whether the student is ready. If accepted, Oakley makes every effort to ensure success by providing structure and counseling for their
students. Each student is assigned a counselor for approximately 30 minutes of individual counseling each week, or one hour every
two weeks. In addition, students participate in two one- hour group counseling sessions each week that are supervised by the counseling
staff. The counselor and student also contact the family on a bi-weekly basis to discuss the student’s emotional and behavioral progress.
The academic advisor is also available to discuss the student’s academic progress. Students with a past history of substance abuse
are also required to participate in a recovery program. All students are subject to regular, random drug screens, and all mail is
opened in the presence of a staff member. Room and personal searches are also conducted when “non-verbal and verbal student behavior
I felt that Oakley’s commitment to maintaining a strong and positive
student culture was evident in the students I observed. They looked happy and motivated. When my student tour guides showed me the
dorms, I was told that they were surprisingly conducive to studying. They said it was the case even though they were required to study
in their rooms, with all roommates present. The elements of student life that helped maintain this environment include: the honor
code (for a supportive, predictable environment), the code of conduct (expectations and consequences), the form system (guidelines
and rewards), house and school-wide meetings, student government, and job assignments (participation in the day-to-day operation of
the campus). The students appeared to accept these elements as part of life at Oakley School, though they admit that at times it can
be a struggle.
Although it is a voluntary program with many elements included
to support the students, at times a student may choose to leave the program. In such cases, the family is contacted, and a phone meeting
is encouraged between all parties involved. However, the staff will not pursue and/or recover the student, if the choice is made to
Obviously this environment is not suitable for some, but for the
motivated student who recognizes the opportunity that resides within these walls, Oakley School is indeed an exciting place to be.
It is understandable why admission into their program is worth waiting for; which is sometimes the necessary predicament.