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Posted: Dec 2, 2004 17:53


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Manchester Center, Vermont
Rae Ann Knopf, MSW - Executive Director

Visit by Loi Eberle, MA, IECA, October 27, 2004

Colorful autumn foliage complimented the elegant surroundings of the Bromley Brook School during its dedication ceremony on this crisp October day in Manchester, VT. A group of consultants and Aspen Education Group personnel huddled in front of the beautiful school building to watch the ribbon cutting ceremony. During his address to the group, Aspen Education Group's CEO, Elliot Sainer, spoke of their excitement over dedicating this new school that is designed to meet the specific needs of girls. He praised the hard work of their new executive director, Rae Ann Knopf, and her very capable faculty and staff.

After Rae Ann cut the fat red ribbon with oversized plastic scissors, we adjourned for a delicious lunch of high quality food they said is typical of what is served to the students. Describing Bromley Brook as "a new way of educating girls," Rae Ann then called all nine of the Founding Daughters to the front of the room, to honor each of them with a rose and words of praise. These girls, who comprise Bromley Brook's first class, have devoted a great deal of energy to help create the climate of this campus. After honoring them, the girls departed for an outing. I enjoyed watching the acknowledgement of the Founding Daughters; they seemed happy and comfortable.

Bromley Brook's mission is to "teach each girl to recognize her own individual needs and use her self-awareness to achieve more than she believes is possible." There are three primary principles guiding the school towards its mission: Excellent Education and Professional Mentoring; Family and Community Focus; and Girl Centered, Self-discovery and Self-knowledge. The Founding Daughters spent a good deal of time working together to co-create the school's operating principles into 20 rules that serve as guidelines for how the school's mission statement is translated into action. If someone violates these rules, they hold a Values Council. This realignment process involves writing letters of understanding, individual self reflection and determination of consequences.

Dr. JoAnn Deak then addressed our group about the strengths and difficulties the girls encounter. She discussed the brain research that has influenced Bromley Brook's educational strategies while alluding to the struggles these and other girls encountered in typical academic settings. She was a very entertaining and informative speaker. The research she presented showed gender-based differences in brain activity. The specific ways that girls experience and process information is elaborated upon in her book, Girls Will be Girls, published in 2002 by Hyperion, NY. She explained that while what is good for girls often works for boys, what is good for boys is not often good for girls.

Earlier in the day, I had a chance to speak with the students while they were helping their teachers give presentations about their classes. Since a number of people attended this event, there was a lot of cat-herding type of activity. After the initial session that morning, we were encouraged to divide into groups and given a schedule of classes and rooms to find. We wandered from attractive meeting rooms to well-equipped classrooms, and eventually found the specific class session our particular group was supposed to attend. The teachers and the students spoke to us about their classes with enthusiasm and skill.

In our first session, Dr. Diana Sholtz, Bromley Brook's Counseling Director, explained that this school is for more "intact" girls with good cognitive functions and less behavioral issues. They require a one-year commitment and accept girls who are "bright, with unrealized potential and self esteem issues." Bromley Brook is suited for girls who have trouble with peer relationships, family issues, and often have had some sort of trauma in their history. They will consider girls who are not oppositional or defiant; they want students who agree to attend the program because they want to make changes. Dr. Sholtz does on-site psychological and educational testing, and Bromley Brook has a learning specialist on staff to assist those girls who may have different types of learning disabilities, including Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities.

While Bromley offers drug and alcohol education to focus on the underlying issues that lead to abuse, they do not enroll girls with serious drug problems or offer 12-step groups on campus. Each month, they host parent weekends, in-person family therapy and parent education workshops.

Girls may have personal items in their dorms and typically, three girls share a room. The staff members are awake and on duty at night. Bromley Brook provides a variety of daily activities, including running or walking outdoors and the Curves model of circuit training. The program provides a family style dining atmosphere where the girls dress for dinner and are assigned chores. While there is not a specific uniform, there is a dress code that allows for a range of acceptable outfits.

At the end of the opening discussion, we divided into small groups to spend time with each teacher. We visited the computer lab the students use for research. In a mathematics class, we sat before a large screen where we watched advanced computer software demonstrate the solving of geometric equations using graphic representations of colors and shapes. We viewed a creative and insightful art class. Art is an elective course taught in a seminar style that allows longer periods of time for activities like painting and pottery.

The enthusiasm and insight I observed in Bromley Brook's teachers and staff appeared to also motivate the students. Although the school is in its infancy, the original Founding Daughters are learning to be responsible role models for new students who wish to attend a school that strives to create an environment that works with girls' unique strengths and needs. The staff had a good understanding of their mission and the energy needed to accomplish it. I look forward to hearing more about Bromley Brook in the future.

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