My original visit was scheduled for November 27, 2007, but due to weather, I had to postpone it a day. I was impressed that Timber Ridge Preparatory School for Girls could accommodate me so quickly with a date change. As I drove across the flats leading to Timber Ridge, the sun shone on the picturesque snow-covered mountains surrounding the school. I thought to myself how lucky these girls were to live so deep in the beauty of nature, so far from the distractions of any busy city.
I drove up to the school, parked and walked into the front doors of the main lodge. Timber Ridge is an emotional growth residential program for girls ages 13-17. Appropriate students include girls who struggle with low self-esteem, anger issues, oppositional defiant behavior, attachment issues, anxiety, emotional and behavioral issues, poor coping skills, etc. Most girls deal poorly with adoption, divorce, loss, grief and/or adolescent pressures. Academically, girls may struggle with school failure and frustration, low motivation, poor study skills and habits, truancy and connecting with negative peers.
I walked into the lodge and instantly noticed the beautiful log home feel. I walked past the living room and kitchen area, and proceeded down the hall to where the administrative offices are located. Elizabeth Grace, Timber Ridge's DBT Specialist/ Family Therapist, was the first to greet me. She escorted me into the staff kitchen where I met Marcia Pearson, Executive Director, and other staff members. We sat in the staff kitchen and discussed each of their roles and the basic schedule of the program, complete with an outline of who the program worked for and how things flowed. Listening to the staff talking about the things they were doing with the girls, I sincerely felt they loved the girls like their own children.
The structure at Timber Ridge is fairly tight, and there is a heavy therapy component. Girls attend therapy sessions of one sort or another every day. On the day I was there, not only were girls attending individual sessions, but a new DBT Therapy exercise was planned for the afternoon. In addition to individual and DBT Therapy, Timber Ridge utilizes Art Therapy, group and family therapy and experiential therapy.
After we finished our discussion with the staff, Marcia walked me through the living quarters which are on the second floor of the lodge. Typically, there are three to four girls per room, but there are a few rooms that house only two girls each. The rooms were very tidy with all personal items put away and beds made. Girls had pictures of family and friends on bulletin boards near their beds, and almost every bed had an afghan on it that was crocheted by a student. Marcia explained to me that the girls are allowed to have pictures of their families, but the friends on the walls were either current students or students who had previously graduated.
Therapy isn't the only structured aspect of the Timber Ridge program. Academics are very important as well. After we finished touring the lodge, Marcia walked me over to the school building, about 100 yards up the road from the main lodge. The girls were in class when we arrived, so we quietly entered and walked through. Marcia explained the class structure to me, describing the unique way Timber Ridge addresses education.
Timber Ridge is accredited by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools (NAAS). Each student has an education plan tailored directly to her needs, which are assessed at enrollment. As I saw during my visit, all the girls sit in the main classroom working independently on their assignments. Teachers take a small group of girls to secondary classrooms for more personalized instruction sessions throughout the day. On the day I visited, I saw three girls in one secondary classroom with a teacher, two girls testing in another, and one girl was receiving individual instruction going over a recent assignment with the Academic Director.
Because Timber Ridge uses a rolling admissions process, girls enter the program at varying levels. The academic component addresses this with a genuine individualized academic plan. Each girl works at her own pace in each of her classes rather than all the girls working in the same class at the same time. Mastery in each subject is mandatory before the student can move forward.
After observing the girls in all their classes, Marcia and I returned to the main lodge where lunch was about ready. Shortly afterward, the girls joined us and Marcia left me to have an unsupervised lunch with the students who were busily gathering their food and sitting down at tables by their friends. I joined a table of girls and quickly discovered I was sitting with students ranging from the shortest stay to the longest. The "oldest" girl would be graduating in just a few days, and it was obvious to me she had seen many visitors while at the school. She
appeared to know much about me and was more than happy to discuss life in the program. She had excellent eye contact and talked about the school with a true sense of pride. The "youngest" girl had been at Timber Ridge only a few weeks. She emanated anger but was respectful and definitely listened intently as the other girls discussed their views of the program, turning to look at us only when she had input.
Although I had been invited to stay for the afternoon DBT Therapy session, after lunch I had to head out. I said good luck to the girls and left the lodge. On my way out, I noticed one girl was bundled up, sitting at the patio table outside the lodge, enjoying the view and taking a little time for self-reflection. I took one last look at the lodge, then climbed in my car and drove away.