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Posted: Feb 6, 2008 17:09

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The New EXCEL Academy of Texas!
An Update from Don Vardell

Don Vardell
Executive Director

February 06, 2008

As I begin my sixth full month in southeast Texas, proudly serving as the head of the new EXCEL Academy of Texas, I wanted to take a moment to update my friends, colleagues and referring professionals on the status of our transformation and some of the exciting things we have going on this spring.

Many of you know that my team and I have been hard at work refining the EXCEL program to update the services, ensure that we are being responsive to referral sources and families, and continue to serve students struggling with substance abuse and poor academic performance with a high quality and high value option. This past August, we embarked on a path to convert the programming and services from a classic Therapeutic Community modeled school with an 18 month minimum length of stay, to a more clinically based "positive community culture" model with an average stay of 12 months. Our unique blend of daily substance abuse programming and college prep academics have created what we call a "Sober Academy". The new EXCEL offers accredited academics with daily 12 step work and supportive clinical services to our adolescent population of 9th through 12th graders.

Since becoming part of Aspen Education Group in 2001 and then CRC Health Group in 2007, EXCEL has strived to maintain a program that compliments other components of our growing continuum as well as provide a unique option for families and referring professionals. I believe the latest changes are consistent with that goal and history.

Here are some key points that highlight the New EXCEL Academy of Texas:

  1. We no longer have the orange jumpsuits or primarily utilize behaviorally based approaches. We have implemented and invested in clinically based, licensed and certified staff and we have adopted a more relational model.

  2. Our target student population and profile must include substance abuse as a primary issue. We do not take youth with conduct disorders and we typically prefer to have a full range of testing prior to acceptance.

  3. Most of our students will have completed a previous intervention including short term RTC, in-patient or residential drug/alcohol treatment, or wilderness program before enrolling.

  4. Our flexible length of stay, targeted at 12 months, is designed to re-integrate our students with academic success and give them sober living skills based on the AA 12 steps, in order to be successful after EXCEL.

  5. We now have a performance based level system that is grounded in the AA/NA 12 steps, the Stages of Change™, and concepts such as Positive Peer Culture as well as evidence-based practices that allow our students to be fully engaged with their recovery and afford opportunities for increased privileges, openness and reintegration into their home communities.

  6. We are making substantial investment in renovating and improving the physical campus and facilities. We are taking advantage of the beautifully wooded 35 acres in the plush southeast area of Texas, enhancing the aesthetic appeal of our ponds, rolling grounds and academic facilities. Our new library, parent conference center and dorm renovations are sure to impress.

  7. Our purpose: program and staff are all focused on ensuring our students learn to make the right choices, develop and maintain healthy relationships, and learn the skills for a successful life in recovery. We are doing this without coercive techniques and in a transparent and family engaging way.

  8. Our plans for 2008 include a Culinary Arts elective to add to our current Chinese elective and Debate Team/Club.

  9. The SCUBA certification class will be back this summer session.

  10. Our academic program is now organized in trimesters with two 16 week sessions and a 9 week summer session. We accept admissions year round and 7 days a week.

  11. Our students are active in community service, which is tied to progression through our level system, and are participating in a variety of "giving back" activities.

  12. As a "Sober Academy" based on a positive community culture, we offer daily 12 step meetings, specialty groups, individual counseling and special "sober fun" weekly programming to our students.

I invite all of you to come to the Houston area, visit our renewed program and meet our staff and students. Come by and watch our debate team or participate in our weekly equine therapy outings where our students help local children with developmental disabilities. We are proud of our work over the past six months and look forward to a great 2008.

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