I stopped to visit Shepherds Hill Academy on June 3, 2014, on my way back home to SC after visiting my student who was at Second Nature in GA. I wanted to visit Shepherds Hill Academy because my seventh grade girl would be concluding wilderness in the following weeks. I arrived about an hour late but the founder Trace Embry and his wife Beth welcomed me with gracious enthusiasm.
Shepherds Hill Academy is a Christian, Emotional Growth Boarding School in Northeastern Georgia. Founded in 2001 by Trace & Beth Embry, the school sits on 86 acres and is licensed for 36 students. The duration of the program is a 12-month minimum but many students stay longer.
There are currently three Christian-trained counselors, with one Masters level EAGALA trained therapist, and the hours of Individual Therapy include 60 minutes. (Each student has the availability for more if a situation requires.) Students also participate in three hours of group therapy, and there are several groups that are specifically tailored toward a focus on particular issues as well.
The property is located at the intersection of Route 17 and Price Road in Martin, GA, a tiny town of only of 1.5 square miles. Shepherd's Hill Academy takes up 86 acres at the exit of this newly expanded Route 17. Much to the founder's chagrin, the expansion of Route 17 was built on one side of what was Shepherd's Hill girls' camp. This site had to be moved a bit closer to the boys' quarters but they are still very separate. The campus is well tended and cared for even though it consists of trailers, except for the original, small farm house. The founder, Trace Embry fixed it up himself. Students reside in log cabins which they help to maintain. Each cabin has heavy plastic sheeting to keep the flies out in summer and the cold out in winter. Each cabin has a wood-burning stove. There's an outhouse for use during the day. However, each morning students use the showers in a brick-and-mortar building centrally located. The dining hall and kitchen were located in an old-fashioned aluminum trailer that used to be a well-known local diner. Kids sit and eat in the booths that look just like what you'd see at a restaurant. Girls eat first, then the boys. The classrooms are located on the first floor or a newer-looking trailer and on the second floor there is a chapel. That's the only time the girls see the boys: during church service. However, the boys are supposed to turn to the wall when the girls enter, so they really cannot size each other up. Trace says the boys actually prefer it. They have Chapel every Friday with readings of Scriptures, and then Church service on Sunday. There's a trailer that is set up for regular weekly radio broadcasts. Those parents who want to learn more about Shepherd's Hill biblical teachings can listen to the many broadcasts by Trace here www.licensetoparent.org
Shepherd's Hill mission is to teach the biblical truth to children, teens and parents. This truth, Trace says, does not contradict science. He says that when he attended the 2013 IECA Spring conference in Indianapolis and listened to the keynote speaker, Leonard Sax's presentation, he felt that the research on gender development aligned with Biblical teachings. Trace says the speaker's practical advice on the benefits of single-sex education was based on common sense, which supports the scriptures. Furthermore, Trace says: "Kids today are born into this post-modern world where they are unable to experience pleasure from activities like work, social interactions and study, so they live in a state of anhedonia. They listen to music that fills their head with harmful messages and go down a harmful path instead of rejoicing in the love of God." Trace gave me a CD of modern music that addresses how rock music's metal vibrations negatively affect a young person's developing neural pathways in the brain.
It's hard to not be taken in by Trace's unwavering faith in the Bible's teachings, the answers that he so clearly articulates, and the strong leadership that he uses to turn at-risk kids into respectful, law-abiding, hard-working kids. His pulpit is Shepherd's Hill Academy. From here he leads his flock with passion and conviction. From here he broadcasts "License to Parent", a weekly radio show about Biblical parenting. Christian parents bring their kids here in the hope that this school, under Trace's leadership, will feel God's love and will bring their child back to them.
Types of kids enrolled at Shepherd's Hill Academy.
Shepherd's Hill Academy licensed for 36 students and was nearly full when I visited. Boys and girls live in two totally separate camps with zero interaction between them. After 10 months in this program, kids are promoted into "next steps" and get to socialize with more people. The ages range between 12and 17 years old. Average age is 15. They teach 7th through 12th grade. This is a SACS accredited school and the academic curriculum is tailored to the educational needs of each student. Teachers were graduates of the nearby Toccoa Falls (Christian) College. The Principal of this SACS accredited school. Mr. Steve Schyck, was a former principal and superintendent of schools in Atlanta's Fulton County.
Was Trace Embry, the founder, always like this? No. Earlier on, in a previous life, he was a policeman in Chicago, until he felt God's calling and so he moved south, where he enrolled at Toccoa Falls College(GA) to live the Bible, which "tells the truth, tells reality". One very significant benefit of an education at Shepherd's Hill Academy is that all students receive a thorough knowledge of biblical truth along with a theological framework upon which to construct an essentially Christian worldview. In addition, he gives the kids "boundaries", "discipline", and "principles to live by". His favorite book is Do the hard thing by Alex and Brett Harris.
Trace explains that kids live in the woods for a year, like back in the 18th century, unplugged, no running water except for faucets at the bath house, and so are insulated from today's modern distractions. They get up at sun rise and sleep at sun down. Families with kids who have anger issues, drugs, gang activity finally find a place where their kids can discover who they are, boundaries, and God's love. Trace says: "Here they hear the biblical word and the truth of Jesus Christ. These truths do not contradict science and in fact give the right answers".
Just as we were walking near the bath house, I came across a group of boys with their teacher, and they answered my questions with lots of "Yes ma'am". They said they were happy to be there. This school turned them around. They were going down the wrong path. They were saved here. One said: "Some kids will go into the world without being a real person because they don't know what it means to be disciplined." I never heard so many "Yes ma'am's" but after all, they were southern boys. The program also works with the family to set boundaries and structures in their homes. They hold regular family meetings on campus.
Students here receive one hour of counseling a week with Master's level Counselors. Trace offers many parent workshops, some on campus, on Skype and through the broadcasts. I talked with the girls while they were sitting in a classroom. I asked what they had learned about themselves as a result of being at Shepherd's Hill Academy. Some of the girls answered they were there trying to become better people. One girl from Atlanta said she was hoping to mend her relationship with her parents. Another from South Carolina said she needed to work on her attitude. Overall the girls were sweet, respectful and compliant, except for one girl who was slightly oppositional to my question. Kids wear their own clothes here and a list of items is posted on the website. If you have kids who draw sustenance from their Christian faith, can benefit from Bible teachings and seek the importance of Christian faith, take a look at Shepherd's Hill Academy.