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Posted: Oct 15, 2014 17:56


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Oakley, Utah
Susanna Shakespeare, MAT
Director of Admissions

Visit by: Lon Woodbury, October 3, 2014

If awards were given for "most beautiful campus," Oakley school would be in the running for a top spot. This impression starts with a large Oakley school sign at the entrance to the 20 acre property, and this impression is backed up by an impressive view of a large 25,000 square foot lodge surrounded by 2 large dorms and a gymnasium. All the buildings are so well-maintained they still look relatively new. In the center of the complex is a large pond, and mowed green grass surrounds the whole area. The overall impression is a peaceful soothing oasis surrounded by prosperous farmland and towering mountains.

Oakley School Sign

Oakley school is a coed college prep boarding school for teens ages 14 to 18. It is designed for students who are struggling but do not need the clinical intensity of a residential treatment center. The students are bright but underperforming academically and otherwise. One staff referred to them half-jokingly as "scattered geniuses". What the school has found in recent years is the students that have arrived mostly have executive function problems that have been interfering with their academic life and their lives in general. Some transfer there after successfully completing a wilderness therapy program, others transfer from a residential treatment center or intense therapeutic boarding school and some come from home not needing the more intense clinical experience but are still struggling.

The structure of the school has what they call "The Four Pillars:" the academic program, the residential structure, learning through experiential and outdoor activities, and clinical support through regular individual and group therapy. All are structured to challenge the students to learn how to make better decisions and be more comfortable with who they are and what they are capable of.

Oakley School Facility

The school is accredited by the Northwest Association of accredited schools and is qualified to provide high school diplomas. The students are in classes from 9 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon five days a week. I had the opportunity to sit in several classes which had good challenging content worthy of any quality college prep school. One of the classes was directly aimed at executive functioning problems and through a fun participation group exercise was teaching the students in creative problem-solving designed to break down any tendency toward rigid and defeatist attitudes. The students were having fun with the exercise and learned that their first impression of what the solution was would not necessarily be the only or best solution.

Executive Director Paul Taylor came to the school a little over a year ago. He has brought several key staff on board and been tackling several areas that he felt needed to be addressed. He detected evidence of an underground among the students (being activities they keep secret from the staff because they know the staff would not approve) and responded to it by emphasizing the importance to the staff of developing relationships with the students. This is under the theory that when the students have good relationship with the staff they would feel safe enough to bring problems to an adult instead of looking to their peers for a solution. As anybody who has worked in schools knows, an underground is very difficult to eliminate once it has taken hold, but it seems they are making good progress.

He also decided that the academics needed to take advantage of modern technology and the students all now use chrome books and are actively using Google classroom. The advantage of this is that nothing the students do are kept on their hard drive but are kept on Google documents where the staff have access to all their work. Collaboration is easier through this as well as monitoring. Access to the Internet is strictly controlled and the chrome books are unable to surf the web or email anybody other than the other students and staff. This approach allows the students to be using digital devices, but without problems of viruses or other temptations on the Internet.

I had a chance to visit with several of the students and they were articulate, looked clean cut teens, seemed to be getting their lives back on track, and having some fun. Oh, and if lunch was any indication, they eat well.

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