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Posted February 1, 2005

Milton, New Hampshire
Roger Topp - Admissions Director

Visit by: Kristie Henley - September 12, 2004

Administrative OfficesAs I drove down the narrow country road leading to Shortridge Academy, I tried to imagine what the campus might look like. I turned off the country road and pulled into the driveway, which opened up to a wide and beautiful campus. Driving up to the school, I observed that there was an overall relaxed and comfortable feeling on the campus kids lounged in the yard doing homework, played in the soccer field and played basketball. The main building is large and they were building an addition at the time of my visit. Despite the construction, it felt safe and warm as I got out of my car and headed toward the doors.

When I walked up to the building, there were two doors to choose from, and I was unsure of exactly which door to enter. I asked a couple of the students where I might find Roger Topp, Admission Director, and they quickly took me inside and showed me the staircase to the administrative offices. The administrative offices are located on the upper level of the building.

Walking toward the admissions office, I saw the familiar face of Bruce Wilson, Co-Program Director who introduced me to Roger. A short tour around the administration office gave me a feel for some of the structure at Shortridge. After talking with Roger for an initial overview of the Shortridge program, I met Adam Rainer, Founder/ Co-Program Director.

Students rarely get to come into the administration offices, but that day, two neatly dressed students walked up as I talked with Adam, they introduced themselves and led me off for a tour around the campus. As we walked, they shared their stories and described life at Shortridge.

Shortridge is a college prep boarding school, with an impressive curriculum, and one-on-one tutoring for students if needed. Appropriate students often struggle with low self-esteem, poor decision making, poor relationships, sexual promiscuity, experimentation with drugs and/or alcohol, lying and/or a lack of direction in their lives. The school can accept students with very mild learning disabilities or ADD/ ADHD, but cannot work with dual-diagnosis students. They can take up to 42 students, ages 14-17. Shortridge does not offer a clinical component; however, there is a therapist on staff just in case. Approximately 75 percent of the students come into the program on psychotropic medications.

One of the students who toured me around the campus had spent 13-months at Shortridge. She was in phase III, made excellent eye contact and was comfortable sharing her story with me. The other student was a boy who had been there approximately nine months. The students talked realistically, rather than as if they had been programmed. They didn't use 'buzz words' or concepts, but talked openly about themselves and why they were here. They wanted to share not only the good things about the school, but also their personal struggles; not wanting to be there in the beginning, broken agreements during their experience, and how they overcame their obstacles. I felt very comfortable opening up and sharing my experiences as a student in the early 90's as we toured the campus.

The main level of the building consists of classrooms, a dining hall, an industrial kitchen and a cubby area, comparable to an open mini-locker for each of the students to store their belongings during school. Some of the renovations underway while I was there, included adding more classrooms, and renovating the storage facilities in the basement where they were creating better cubby facilities. Also in the basement of the admin building was the pantry and the yard tool and sporting equipment storage rooms.

Girls CabinWe followed the road from the basement of the admin building down to the girls' cabin. Each cabin consists of one main gathering/ study room in the middle as you walk in, and four bedrooms with two bathrooms. Laundry facilities are located in one of the bathrooms of the cabin as well, and there is an apartment for live-in staff. Each cabin can house up to 20 students, with four to five bunks in each room. Students are responsible for the upkeep of the cabin and use chore rotations to help hold each other accountable.

The girls' dorm was very clean with everything put away and beds made. Each girl has a cubby near her bunk with personal effects, books, decorations from home, and personal bedding covering her bunk. Stuffed animals littered some of the beds in the rooms I visited, and personal pictures lined the walls in collage fashion. The bathroom in the girl's dorm was vibrant with decorations. Dried flowers in vases lined the sinks and colorful bathrobes lined the walls. There were even pictures and artwork hung on the walls, and ribbons' framed the bathroom stalls. A lot of pride went into decorating this cabin, which told me good things were happening here, for many of these students came to Shortridge with low self-esteem and motivation.

While in the girls' dorm, I met a girl who had been at Shortridge only three months. She was still in a compliant stage, admitting that she needed to be here, but not necessarily believing this was a better option for her than her previous direction.

We left the girls' dorm and headed up the road to the boys' dorm. In the main room of the boys' dorm, there were two couches rather than the desks as in the girls' dorm. Although not quite as clean as the girls' dorm, the boys' dorm was also tidy, and decorated with pictures and personal effects. Several of their beds also contained stuffed animals. Childhood was ever present in each of the rooms I visited.

BathroomAs we walked further up the road, we came across a nature trail that students in the orientation phase were creating. We deviated from the road to walk the loop and the students explained the level system of Shortridge Academy.

Phase I, Foundations, allows students to slow down, simplify their world in a safe and structured environment while taking a look at what they do - not necessarily taking responsibility for it yet. The students explore the questions: "Who am I?" "Why am I here?" and "Am I honest?" Students at this point (as witnessed with the girl who'd only been at Shortridge for three months) will typically begin to open up and acknowledge the behaviors that brought them to Shortridge Academy.

In Phase II, Relationships, students ponder questions like, “Where am I going?” “What are my goals and dreams?” and “Are my relationships supportive?” Students begin to realize that healthy friendships are important and start taking accountability for their behaviors. They write letters to family and healthy friends from home and start setting up support networks both back home and at the school.

Phase III, Leadership, is the most independent portion of the Shortridge program. Students in Phase III obtain a high level of trust, and therefore have more freedoms. The girl on the tour explained that her phase work included questions such as “How do I get to where I want to go? And “How do I define success for myself?” She shared how her role transformed from focusing on her issues/ behaviors, to helping newer students with their phase work and working outside the school around the community. She also shared that she was a little apprehensive about her leadership skills.

One thing that struck me about the students at Shortridge was how they referred to each other in age terms. The girl who toured me was “older” than the boy, not because she was chronologically older, but because she had been at Shortridge longer. Another factor that impressed me was that almost every student came from a wilderness program prior to attending Shortridge. Although it's not required, students who come from a wilderness tend to respond better to the emotional growth components of the school. If a student comes and is resistant, Shortridge will request the student go to a wilderness before returning to the school.

Walking back up to the school, we passed a house where one of the staff members lived with his family. The students explained that six of the staff members live on campus with their families and animals. The students feel safe having dogs on campus and it creates more of a homelike feeling than a strict boarding school.

Before leaving Shortridge, I looked around the campus, and noticed how involved all the staff are with the students. Adam Rainer was down in the field playing relay games with a PE group, Roger was working with another group, and teachers were talking with smaller groups or helping students in a one-on-one setting. The students continued with their normal routine and did not appear distracted by my visit. I felt both safe and at peace as I ended my visit and drove away.

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Copyright © 2005, 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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