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Posted July 16, 2003 

Preparatory School For Girls
Marcia Pearson, Chief Administrator
Clark Fork, Idaho

Lon’s Visit: May 22, 2003

Although the journey to Timber Ridge starts with a girls’ out-of-control behavior at home, the drive to Timber Ridge is definitely part of that journey! It is creates a sense of isolation from all the temptations of civilization the girls have so far been unable to handle properly. Starting with several miles drive along a narrow two-lane North Idaho highway, it then requires a drive across an ancient decrepit bridge over the Clark Fork river that is quite the adventure in itself. That part of the adventure will soon change since the new modern bridge should be completed by fall. Hopefully a close eye has been kept on road signs and directions, since it is then necessary to then go several more miles along a narrow paved Idaho County Road, followed by a couple of miles on a dirt road. After a few more twists and turns as the road goes up a rise, it finally bringing you to the main building. The beautiful house, nestled among the trees, looks like a resort because it once was a hunting lodge, prior to the time that Chief Administrator Marcia Pearson founded the school in September 2002.

The school has a very relaxed and nurturing feeling to it, which was reflected in the students I met. When I drove up, however, one of the girls was in the yard, and the emotional storm cloud surrounding her was very obvious even from a distance. It turned out she was digging out a stump in the yard, as a work detail to be doing some physical work to go along with her issue exploration. When I had a chance to talk with her later, she seemed to be doing the job willingly, and accepting it as an opportunity to work through some of her issues. Actually, later in the day, she was feeling pretty proud of what she had accomplished to prepare it to where the backhoe could finish the job.

The school enrolls young women ages 14 to 17 years old who have had trouble adjusting to the oncoming requirements of adulthood and womanhood. There were four girls there with a staff of nine during my visit, though they plan to grow to an optimum size of 32 girls. They consider themselves an Emotional Growth school, based on the four cornerstones of Academics, Therapy, Physical Health and Family. Starting with the premise that the “truth doesn’t change when circumstances do,” they provide “the opportunity to achieve academic success, rebuild family relationships, interact with the community and develop skills in a variety of areas that could literally become life-saving solutions.”

Family involvement is a top priority for the school, as shown by their parallel curriculum for the parents to work with while their daughter progresses through the four levels. This curriculum is designed to help the parents understand the changes their daughter is making. It also helps the parents change their behavior in ways that will support their daughter’s internalization of her changes. Parent involvement is a requirement for enrollment, which includes weekly phone calls with parents, staff and student as the girl progresses through the program. Another important part of parent involvement is campus visits once their daughter is ready to make that a constructive family-building experience.

The school is very serious about developing their academic program. Marcia’s professional background emphasized academics, and she was the academic director in another program before starting Timber Ridge. In her development of the school, high quality academics have been a top priority. The academic building is already wired for computer use, and they are ready to take advantage of Internet academic offerings, of course with suitable safeguards against misuse. They already have started the process for accreditation through the Northwest academic accrediting body, which is the standard school accrediting organization for private and public schools throughout most of the West.

Physical Health is a part of every girl’s day. Plans are in the making for developing an equine therapy component since the horse stables and horses are currently easily available. Also, hikes in the wilderness and other challenging physical activities are just outside their back door, either on their one hundred acre campus, or in the surrounding mountains, rivers and lakes. At the heart of Physical Health is planned, structured physical workouts and activities six days per week, supervised by Recreational Therapists who specialize in blending physical and emotional therapy.

Since drug abuse is so common among children with emotional/behavioral problems, Timber Ridge has added a drug abuse component called Pathways to Addiction. In this component, taking time-tested techniques from twelve-step programs, “We assist each student in retracing the steps she took on her own pathway to addiction by identifying the ‘true’ issues behind her addictive choices, defining the ‘whys’ of those choices, and developing new tools through healthier decision-making.” This process starts when she responds to her initial Family Impact Statement, which essentially is a “letter from the heart” of parents, siblings, and other family members who were affected. These letters, which can be very powerful, are then shared by the student with the rest of the group. Guided communication with the family and treatment coordinator help continue this letter writing process between the girl and her family, though during the second and third levels of the program, girls are able to communicate with their family by telephone.

Although still in their first year of development, Marcia’s determination, along with the dedication of the other staff, have developed the foundation of what looks to be a quality school for girls badly needing a break to refresh their outlook and understanding of life.

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