Far too often, I am humbled by a school visit process in which a consultant, responsible for the placement of a struggling youth, must try to hear, observe and evaluate a particular school to quote "recommend it to a client" or even write a review for a wider audience.
Do we know the student we represent well enough to recommend a placement? What is our rationale for selecting this particular placement over others? For me, equally important, and in some ways more challenging, how do I assure myself that the recommendation will meet the needs of the child, assure the safety of the child and do no harm? It is an awesome responsibility, in many respects the same as that of a parent who rightfully is concerned about their decision to send their child to a program. I have no visions of grandeur or crystal ball which will guarantee anyone that my thoughts are objective, accurate and sound. The child will be sent to a place that I may recommend by a decision of the parents or guardians and neither of us will be present day in and day out to see what happens to their child. A school's state of being is a living process which is constantly in flux and can well be affected by such conditions as the Nation's Economy and personnel changes. No one person that I have met has been able to guarantee me all the knowledge I would need of both the child and the school so that I can provide more than my best advice. After almost 46 years as a consultant and literally hundreds of school visits from colleges to boarding schools to treatment centers across the United States, I still find the task of placement a difficult and very personal challenge. There are no automatic solutions, no boiler plate explanations for each child is, thank God, unique.
This report on Valley View Schools was not solicited by school personnel nor was it written arbitrarily, but is a salute to a recent visit, one of about twenty visits over the years and following the placement and outcomes on at least a half a dozen young people. The student I most recently had interviewed was carefully reviewed and many discussions made the parents and me comfortable that a visit was in order. Valley View's refusal to admit the child added measurably to our understanding to the needs of the child and proved to provide some valuable insights for all of us involved.
It was after this interview that I felt I needed to understand better my knowledge of Valley View School, and so the visit transpired.
Valley View School has been operating quietly since the early 70's and generally has ranged from 35to to 56 students over the years. It provides new tennis courts, a fine playing field, a field house, two very well designed and serviceable school classroom buildings, a wonderful theatre dining facility, a climbing wall, appropriate living quarters for each of its students and in all respects presents as a calm, safe, business like school with everything needed to fulfill its mission of helping the middle school or Junior High Male students with ADD/HD and numerous Axis I clinical profiles. It is placed in a rural setting of North Brookfield, Massachusetts, in the middle of the state, not too far from Worcester or Sturbridge, Massachusetts. It has access to the University of Massachusetts Medical School and hospital facilities if needed and students can fish in the pond adjacent to the campus. Canoes are stacked nicely on a trailer in the front parking lot. Prudent, practical, understatement of facilities is not allowed to obscure the heart of this clinically evolved milieu program. The school day provides a seamless opportunity for these children to balance school and play, daily chores, and behavior monitoring as well with their carefully evaluated clinical and developmental needs.
While therapy is provided individually as needed, and while medication is monitored by alert workers and supervised by psychiatric and nursing professionals, the most vital work may be accomplished with the help of every staff member. The highly qualified Chef (who happens to be genuinely French) and his staff produce a range of balanced meals, supervise students in cleanup, and in work opportunities. They understand each child and their level of encouragement is remarkable. They even catered to my coffee addiction feeling I was a big boy and needed to manage that on my own. The Administrative Secretary in the Director's Office knew each student well when they came in for appointments, advice, or help getting ready for a vacation. She mirrored the strength of this incredible staff. Each student is special and respect is deeply imbedded in the entire school operation.
There is a very clear structure in the milieu, morning rituals are appropriate such as keeping your room in order, preparing for breakfast and class before you leave the building. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served family style with boys taking turns serving and waiting on tables so that they each appreciate meal time as an opportunity to learn, eat properly and master table manners. Staff eats with each table and cleanup is managed by the students. There is a rotation system for sitting at tables.
Behind this remarkably warm and friendly community is a barely-visible, behavioral reward system, which unlike so many programs that fail at this, manages to allow students to earn Valley View allowance spending money and merits for good behavior. This system is very carefully monitored and in most respects is under the radar of the average visitor who might not notice its importance to the whole picture.
The school building was very calm, voices were mellow in the classroom and yet the singing from the Spanish teacher's room filtered into a history class so that some of the kids commented they too would like to sing. The academics were quite appropriate for the student body heading toward a future boarding school or even back to their public school. I spent two days visiting classes so that I was able to take notes in English, Mathematics, History, Spanish, Art, Physical education and finally science. I took careful notes and confess that I became involved with the subject matter and went away richer for the experience. The teachers varied in age but virtually all of them like teaching at Valley View, knew their students, and had tenure which I never calculated but was quite impressive. The science teacher had the kind of energy needed to motivate and the supportive skills to make school a new experience from the students past experience. An average of six students to a class gives the teacher an opportunity to hone in the critical material of each period and to relate it well to each student. It is refreshing to see an academic program which helps the student reach up to the academic level they will need for high school and later college rather than pander to the lowest common denominator or watered down material.
Gravity was discussed with various objects being dropped and the students presenting their theories of what was happening. Spanish was taught with good cheer and singing. Mathematics was individualized on well planned computer programs with two, not one, teachers for 6 students asking questions as they struggled with the problems of their particular math needs. The English teacher was excellent with the choice of a wonderful short story which gradually drew the students into a very animated discussion and left me wishing I could attend the next class to see what happened. The art instructor fills his walls with student projects which are quite eclectic. Drawing, painting, ceramics, wood models, masks, you name it they have an opportunity to create with lots of skilled instruction from their teacher. As a former Principal of a public high school of 1300 students and a therapeutic boarding school of 56 students, I have had to visit many classrooms and evaluate many teachers. I was struck by the strength of this faculty and their ability to create a businesslike school which maintained high standards and a curriculum monitored by the local school district and very consistent with state standards.
As I had breakfast, lunch and dinner with the students, I interacted with them at meals and in class and before bedtime and after a night's sleep. They were wonderful people to speak with, to laugh with and to listen to. They spoke openly about their ups and downs but it was clear in the end that they were content at Valley View School.
Many had traveled to the exotic list of places where Valley View students travel over the years, Russia, South Africa, Vietnam, Mongolia, China, the Galapagos Islands and I am sure I have left out some.
This school has it all: Strong experienced staff, nice facilities, experienced personnel at all levels who have been at the school for many years; lots of small, incremental, additions and changes over the years, but a commitment to quality, responsibility, in a way that makes them predictable, reliable and a good example of the best in the world of therapeutic boarding schools.
The growth of this school is in quality, not quantity, and it has been able to demonstrate prudent management for all these years. As they age, staffing is carefully reinforced by new people who are just as deeply committed to the students as anyone in the past. The management team is a seasoned group of leaders developed in preparation for the future and in preserving a tradition of excellence.
About the Author: Robert "Bob" Kantar, SCC, is an independent Educational Consultant from Vermont. This material was constructed by the Author and represents his views. It was unsolicited. All Bob's reports reflect his training, clinical supervision, and education. For more information about this report or to contact Bob, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 603-496-4240.
First I want to congratulate you on what was written by Mr. Robert Kantar in his Article about VVS.
I feel he does express what VVS is and the HUGE difference it has from all of the other schools we studied before we chose yours for our son.
He captures the senses of what VVS is all about, how professional and caring its staff is and the general feeling we all have from your system surroundings and staff.
To be honest the article is very informative and does accomplish to explain in-depth what we all know and see in your school. What it lacks is how happy we parents are with your school and the results only WE and you (VVS) can see. I am glad he wrote about the student's side but I will send him a copy of this email explaining how happy we parents also are. We are, in the end, the other part of the equation that has had to suffer with ADD, ADHD, lots and lots of schools, teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and FAILIURES so we are sort of "experts" on the subject!
In Andy's case, VVS so far is much, much more than what was written by Mr. Kantar. As a VVS parent I can testify that my son in just 6 months is FINALLY on the right track. If only we would have found VVS 1 or 2 years earlier!
I can foresee that Andy's life will be divided in BVVS (Before VVS ) and AVVS (After VVS). You are life changers and whenever you need additional testimonials from foreign student's parents, you can count on our experience as being one, that I have no doubt will help other parents understand how Andy's life has changed up to the point that for the first time in our lives we finally see the opportunity of him leading a normal and productive life. Andy, as you know was expelled from six schools before attending VVS. This is the first school where we have not received one single complaint from his part. NOT EVEN after Christmas break when he was heading back to VVS did he express a negative word about going back to school. We have seen MORE advance in a few months at VVS than years of therapy and psychiatrists that did not accomplish much.
Congratulations on Mr. Kantar's article but even more congratulations on how we, as parents, perceive Andy's progress in such a short time!
We are live testimonials of what VVS is as a product and the results it gives.
For that, I congratulate you even more than what Mr. Kantar so avidly wrote about your school.
There is a saying in Mexico that a party is as good or as bad depending on the perspective of the person who attended it. In our case, we are thrilled.
Mexico City, Mexico
Dear Mr. Kantar,
I can't tell you how happy I was to read read your recent article about Valley View School! I am a mother of a very new Valley View student who just began there last week and this is our first experience with a therapeutic boarding school. I will just tell you a little bit about ourselves and tell you about my recent experience at VVS.
My son Jacob is an 11 year old 6th grader with ADHD and oppositionality. A few weeks ago he was kicked out of the private Jewish Day School he has attended in Los Angeles since the first grade. I immediately hired a local and well regarded educational placement specialist (Dani Levine, PhD) who, after thoroughly reviewing his school records and transcripts, his neuropsychological evaluation, and consulting with his treatment professionals, made the placement for Jacob at Valley View School.
Of course this is a time of great anxiety for any parent who has to make the emotional and financial commitment to a therapeutic boarding school, especially one that is on the other side of the country and in a much different climate than we are used to in sunny southern California. But once I got my son to the school and we had our orientation I knew we were in great hands. My son fits the population to a T and he settled in easily. We spent the day with the staff, teachers, and directors and needless to say I was blown away. These teachers, staff, and clinicians totally get these boys. As you said in your article, the behavioral program was subtle yet fully integrated in every aspect of these boys lives.
Moreover, the beautiful countryside and campus gave the whole thing a New England prep school feel. Since we live in the urban congested jungle of Los Angeles, it was evident that the school's wonderful outdoor activities, beautiful natural environment, and sports facilities and program was going to a huge and fantastic part of my son's life there. I really felt like it was summer camp and school combined! I even found out that my son's first weekend was spent sledding on this big hill on the grounds and learning how to ice skate on the nearby frozen pond! Very cool stuff for an LA kid.
I feel so confident about my decision to send my son to Valley View and I am now feeling very optimistic about his growth and development in all areas academically, behaviorally, cognitively, and emotionally. But I really wanted to let you know that your article helped confirm and reinforced that I made the right decision (which I could not nor would not have been able to do without the professional expertise of the educational placement specialist). I have forwarded your article to my friends and family, many of whom don't really understand what its like living with a kid who struggles with these issues and what a therapeutic boarding school can and should do. So I really really want to thank you for your time, expertise, and the effort you put into reviewing and writing about this school.
With much appreciation,