& Program Visits - May, 2001 Issue #81
PROVO CANYON SCHOOL
Steven Neilson, Dir. Of Admissions
[Lon’s Visit on March 12, 2001]
Provo Canyon School at the time of my visit was a program of contrasts. This was my third visit there in about ten years. Though much of what I saw was the same, much had changed or was in the process of changing.
The current major changes are due to last year’s acquisition of Provo Canyon by Universal Health Services from the bankrupt Charter Hospital chain. Long neglected repairs and upgrades to the physical plant are now being fully funded by UHS. In the past, Charter had been struggling financially for some time before their bankruptcy and Provo Canyon School had been helping keep that corporation afloat. Now that the school is owned by a financially healthy corporation, needs are being aggressively addressed, instead of ignored. The construction at the boys’ campus was especially evident and from the remodeling I witnessed, I would expect the boys’ campus to be on a par with the girls’ campus shortly.
Provo Canyon School has a reputation as a no nonsense treatment center that effectively works with very resistant children. This reputation is well known among the potential students around the country, partly fed by many admissions directors who remind enrolling students at their current school that if they blow it, they could always be sent to Provo Canyon School. Provo Canyon staff play on that reputation somewhat because having a tough reputation, their students seem to be a little more likely to assume resistance is futile.
At the time of my visit, the girls appeared to have a better deal than the boys. Their space was colorful and the program seemed to be running smoothly with a good feeling of safety. Stuffed animals filled almost every bed, and the dorm spaces for the most part looked settled into with personal mementos on the walls, desks and dressers. Some of the boys’ dorms also had a settled in look and stuffed animals were common, but the yet-to-be-decorated walls and signs of active remodeling gave an unsettled feeling. Judging from the staff’s insistent attitude toward creating further improvements, I would expect the boys’ facility to be comparable to the girls’ facility within a few months.
Academics are a priority in the school; teachers report they routinely offer 120 different classes during a typical year. Since their students come to them with a wide range of academic skills, they have developed four academic tracks to provide maximum flexibility to meet the individual academic needs of each student. One track is for those who are at their appropriate grade level when they arrive, another track is at the Junior High level for those behind in their subjects and there are two Special Education tracks. Provo also provides Advanced Placement classes for those students who can benefit from more challenging academics. Because students arrive and graduate throughout the year, classes are broken down to two-week objectives, and are graded every two weeks. The teachers are enthusiastic about working here because they can focus on content rather than discipline. If a child becomes a discipline problem, the teacher simply calls the childcare staff. The child returns to the classroom only after he/she is ready to focus on academics. In the classes I observed, the students showed remarkable focus on their lessons, attention to the teacher, and avoidance of the usual messing around seen in mainstream classrooms.
Since most students arrive physically unfit, Physical Education is an important part of each student’s day. A high and low ropes course was just being completed on the boys’ campus while I was there, which contributes not only to Physical Fitness, but also to emotional growth work.
Their concept of structure is helping the students learn to control their lives. It includes: detailed attention to the details of daily living; regular individual and group therapy along with weekly family therapy with the parents; therapy without walls using experiential activities such as the ropes course and climbing wall; and is augmented by the student’s efforts to work their way up the level system.
Consequences are throughout the program. Simply earning their way up the level system allows for increased responsibilities and privileges. Immediate consequences consist of a series of immediate interventions such as, when appropriate, asking a student to sit in a chair to cool off. If the behavior continues, the students spend some time in a time-out room under observation, being allowed to leave as soon as having regained self-control. I was informed that the use of any kind of restraint has been de- emphasized, used only as a very last resort. It was reported that more than two years have passed since any kind of mechanical restraint has been used and that the time-out rooms have been used far less frequently than in the past.
The students I met gave a mixed impression. Some looked like they were handling themselves very well and were ready to be successful in their next step. Others looked and acted like they still had a lot of work to do. In many schools, especially those known as Emotional Growth or Therapeutic Boarding Schools, it is fairly easy for a visitor to tell how long a student has been there by how well they are functioning. It is harder to do this with Provo Canyon School students. Because it is locked treatment facility, they take some very damaged students. Thus a student could be about ready to graduate from Provo Canyon, having received about all they could from the school, and still obviously need more treatment. Such students serve as a reminder that Provo Canyon is a clinical treatment center that works with a more serious pathology than most of the other schools and programs with which I work.
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