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Posted: Feb 27, 2006 10:48

FULSHEAR RANCH ACADEMY

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Fulshear, Texas
Anthony S. Geraci Jr, Founder
281-313-1908
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Visit Report By: Lon Woodbury, January 23, 2006

My visit to Fulshear Ranch Academy, a program for young women age 18 and older, provoked two major impressions. First, located on 85 acres with dorms, administrative buildings and horse barns scattered throughout the property, the surroundings inspire a feeling of wide open spaces. Being far enough from Houston to have a decidedly rural atmosphere, the property itself is Texas flat, with most of it covered in grass. This location allows a lot of privacy, as well as plenty of room for working with the horses and other outdoor activities.

My second impression was the girls' high level of enthusiasm. While in the parking lot, a group of girls returned from their community service or internships in a nearby town. Although these girls were in Phase Two of the program, we saw firsthand what might be called the final product of Fulshear's year-long program. These girls were an impressive group; they were excited about what they had done that day in town, and appeared to be looking forward to getting back to their dorms to prepare for supper and the evening activities. They were very ready to open up and visit with us. From their attitudes, and the various projects we saw that the girls had completed around the campus, these students had an obvious and healthy sense of ownership in the program.

The basic model at Fulshear is a "community based holistic approach to living and learning…" The program's goal is to work with the girls in six specific areas: Strength through academic education; Courage through nature-based skills and therapy, Love through equine skills and therapy; Respect and Nurture for both themselves and each other through holistic health; and Passion through career training. The main emphasis is for students to work on all of these goals within a strong and healthy community that takes full advantage of a positive peer culture with adult male and female staff as role models. This is supplemented by both individual and group therapy as needed.

The girls go through three phrases that last about four months each. The first dorms we toured housed the Phase One and Two students. Although some of the rooms were fairly bare, which usually indicates new students who have not adjusted to the program or settled in, many of the rooms were decorated by the girls and reflected a feeling of comfort with the program. In general, the girls who had been there for some time had developed very cozy rooms with a lot of pictures and mementos on the walls. One interesting aspect was that some of the newer girls' decorations were of numerous models and seemed to reflect the extreme perfect body awareness of our current society. I asked the staff about this because in many highly structured programs this type of material would not be allowed since it would be seen as an unhealthy aspiration toward a "perfect" body image. It was explained that in this phase of the program the girls are allowed to use these kinds of collages as an example of how extreme and unhealthy that type of thinking is; these collages are actually used as a caricature of extreme body awareness, which is one of the issues most of the girls are working on. All of the dorms were very neat and clean, with none of what is considered "normal" teenage messiness.

Moving on to the phrase three dorm, we observed how the girls had a higher degree of privileges and responsibilities, reflecting a level of greater personal independence. Their dorms were also neat and clean, but it appeared that many of these girls were actively preparing to graduate and, as a consequence, had fewer wall decorations than the girls in the lower phases. It was as if the walls symbolized the girls' mental preparations for moving on to the next step of college, work or moving back home.

The program currently has 28 girls, and the staff intends to let it slowly grow to about 35, which they feel is an optimum size. The students typically arrive at Fulshear Ranch after completing a short-term wilderness program and are willing to commit to the program because they realize they are not yet ready to go out into the world on their own.

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