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Posted: Mar 16, 2009 07:34


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Oracle, AZ
Kathy Shingler
Admissions Director

Visit by Larry Stednitz, January 27, 2009

Sycamore Canyon Academy, a program of Rite of Passage, was founded in 2008 and is located on twenty acres approximately thirty minutes outside of Tucson, Arizona. Rite of Passage is a not-for-profit organization that has worked with youth throughout the country, typically from the juvenile court system. Although Sycamore Canyon opened its doors just two years ago, they transitioned several staff members who have lengthy experience with Rite of Passage. Unlike its parent company, Sycamore Canyon also works with private pay youth and has eight youth funded privately and twenty youth funded by Pima County Probation Department. The program accepts “softer” youth from the Department and carefully screens those that they accept. Sycamore Canyon administration is committed to offering services to the youth of Arizona. The typical length of stay is between four and nine months.

The director is Ike Shipman, MSW. Ike has over 12 years working with troubled families and youth. His wide ranging experience includes being a teacher, coach, therapist, case manager and program director. It was apparent that Ike is thoughtful and well experienced. Throughout my visit and inquiry into the program model, the program is well thought out with several “best practices” components.

The students, aged twelve to seventeen, typically have shown oppositional behavior, histories of alcohol and drug abuse, and involvement with negative peers in their communities. Many may carry a wide range of diagnoses including conduct disorder.

As one would expect in working with this population, structure is very important. There are three broad goals: to help youth break old habits and develop a healthy routine, good nutrition and normative life style choices. Accountability is carried out with high expectations of the students, and the program implements a modified positive peer culture which has been recognized as a viable approach to working with this population. The students are never out of sight from staff members. The program implements three phases, each phase resulting in more privileges and freedoms, with students moving from large open dormitories to individual rooms as they reach the highest level.

Guided groups are held regularly, as are scheduled team meetings to deal with day in and day out functioning of the program. The students can call “spontaneous” groups to deal with student or staff concerns. Individual therapy is available to the students, but group work is stressed. The therapist works closely with the students through psycho-educational life and coping skills. This component includes “best practices” in order to improve their life and coping skills.

Included in this approach, Sycamore Canyon implements a program called Pathways which addresses issues such as anger management and alcohol and drug abuse as well as self discovery and skills to make changes in their lives. Aggression Replacement Training (ART) is a multi modal psycho-educational intervention designed to increase pro-active choices in their life and assists youth in managing their behaviors. The overall therapy program uses a cognitive behavioral approach.

Family work is important. The families who live in Pima County attend a parent seminar and visit every other week. They are on the telephone with the case manager weekly. The program uses another “best practice” used in parent seminars. This program is called Active Parenting which is designed to increase family cohesion and reduce family conflict. The parents who live outside of Arizona are expected to attend four parent meetings within a year they are at Sycamore.

Another treatment focus is their fitness program. The components of this focus are regularly scheduled calisthenics, running and, when ready, participation in cardio-vascular work on a circuit course. Eventually, all students are required to run three miles within thirty minutes. This program component is designed to develop confidence, discipline and improved overall health. Education is offered in a variety of ways. The classroom teacher ratio is one to fifteen. They are well organized and provide traditional education, as well as experiential and computer driven course work. Special education services are provided as Sycamore Canyon has several students with IEPs. The program offers computer programming for academics as well. This school component allows a student to begin a course which he can continue at home on his own computer after leaving the program.

Part of Sycamore Canyon Academy’s academic program is the Sonoran Desert Curriculum where students have the opportunity to enroll in college level seminar classes at the community college. The focus of the Sonoran curriculum is to teach the history of southern Arizona. Students also collaborate with local archaeologists to learn about those who lived there around 780 AD. Metaphorically, the students learn the local place of which they are a part, expanding this concept to learn their positive role in their own community. Trail maintenance and other community based services are also offered.

Sycamore Canyon is licensed by the State of Arizona Department of Economic Security. The program operates an on-site charter high school accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

I took a tour with two of the boys, one from California and one from Arizona. Wearing their highest levels letter jackets, these boys were courteous, knowledgeable and well groomed. They discussed the program components of the program and were obviously in sync with the staff’s descriptions. One was excited about the possibility to return to the program as an intern. The boys were able to articulate the group work, the family sessions, and knew the three phases in detail, including how to move up to phase three and express clearly what was expected of them. Not surprisingly, the running program was their most difficult part of the program. Both boys discussed their fears of going home and staying away from negative peers, but they also talked about how much they have learned and their hope for a better and more productive life.

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