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Posted March 25, 2003 

Enterprise, Utah
Steve Nadauld, Admissions Director

Lon’s Visit: October 28, 2002

It is amazing how fast a girl can run in heavy hiking boots when she first sees her parents after a long trek in the wilderness!

The Redcliff Ascent staff had taken me out in the field to see this traditional “run-in” by three graduates of the program. They had been told their last assignment was to run the last couple hundred feet down a winding dirt road to the waiting van that would take them back to the modern well-equipped offices designed for full program support and administrative functions, including a warm shower, “civilized” food, and final completion of the program. Part of the idea of a “run-in” is for the graduates to finish soaring with enthusiasm. However, they hadn’t told one girl that her parents would be waiting for her at the van. She gave a surprised squeal when she clomped around the corner and saw her parents waiting at the van, which was followed by an impressive sprint and warm hugs and tears by all the reunited family. After the reunion, and brief exchanges as to what had been going on in their lives, the family headed back to town, talking continuously.

After they left, we hiked a few hundred feet up through the sagebrush and scrub pines to meet with the rest of the group who were still out on the trail. We all circled up and each of the grubby students introduced themselves, and then told a brief version of their “story:” what they had been doing to get placed there, and what they had accomplished on the trail. They were bright eyed, looked good, and with varying degrees of enthusiasm, were proud of their accomplishments in the program. One thing each of them emphasized was the number of fires they had started with a bow drill. Since the ability to start a fire with a bow drill not only requires skill but also persistence, determination, coordination and patience, it is used as an important indication of how students are doing in their program; something easily measured, so they can track their progress.

The countryside is typical of wilderness programs, set in a high desert country with rolling hills, ravines, with a scattering of struggling scrub pines and sagebrush. Wilderness programs usually prefer this kind of setting because surviving in a stark and rather barren landscape is a more obvious challenge to the students than a program would be that is set in a more lush environment with trees, lots of food-bearing vegetation, lakes and streams.

Redcliff Ascent was founded in 1993 as a high-impact short-term wilderness program and has graduated almost 3,000 students. They are accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA), one of the major behavioral health accrediting organizations in the country, and are members of two professional organizations, the Outdoor Behavioral Health Industry Council (OBHIC) and National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), as well as being licensed by the State of Utah. They are proud of the longevity of their key staff, most of whom have been with them for many years.

In their first year of operation they began obtaining extensive psychological evaluations of students when needed in order to develop the proper intervention. They also have always kept detailed track of each child's ratio of body fat to lean tissue, making sure each student stays within normal limits. This is also a good way to measure the increasing physical fitness of each student.

The staff also emphasized they are most effective with children with mild diagnoses and with primarily behavior problems. They expressed concern that they were getting a reputation of working only with difficult kids since they also were effective with students with more difficult problems and behaviors. They thought that the reputation for working only with difficult kids was an unnecessary restriction that some consultants were adopting.

They have an active on-going parents program, which includes weekly discussions with a program therapist, and if desired, with their child’s field supervisor. With a combination of the Jim Jones tapes, and a parent seminar towards the end of the program, the parents in a sense go through their own program so they have the opportunity to change right along with their children. By working in this way with the parents, the graduate is less likely to have parents who are unable to accept the positive changes their child has made, thus enhancing the chances of permanent change.

During my visit everything appeared as smooth as can be expected, considering the nature of the youth and type of family problems that are being brought to the program. RedCliff owners are looking forward to continued growth, which could include a program for pre-teens, and a five day program for the whole family.

PO Box 1671 | Bonners Ferry, ID 83805 | 208-267-5550
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