Davis, West Virginia
Angie Senic, Executive Director and Principal
[Site visit on November 16, 2003 by Steven Carreras, Ph.D., LICSW, Educational Consultant, 978-779-9878, www.docsteven.com]
Alldredge Academy is located in the Canaan Valley in northern West Virginia, with its headquarters in Davis. The academy works with adolescents who are 13-18 years old and was founded in 1999 by L. Jay Mitchell, a co-founder of the SUWS Adolescent Program. Upon my arrival, I was warmly greeted by Angie Senic, the Executive Director and Principal, who provided me with some interesting reading material as well as an invitation to sit in on a team meeting in order to hear more about the program from the staff. During this meeting, the staff explained what made Alldredge Academy different than other wilderness programs: the incorporation of a spiritual/holistic model as part of their 12-Step based therapeutic milieu. The Alldredge spiritual/holistic model is suitable for students from all faiths and reinforces the underpinnings of each student’s own faith.
Approximately 70-80 percent of the students attending Alldredge have problems with substance and/or alcohol abuse/use. Alldredge is a unique therapeutic short-term wilderness program comprised of two programs: the three month Semester Back Program and the two month Wilderness Plus Program. Both programs incorporate one-on-one therapy and two process-oriented family therapy workshops, as well as education credit for students. The Semester Back Program also has a residential school component. Alldredge Academy does not stop with personal development: academic studies are an integral part of the program. Alldredge is a fully accredited academic boarding school. Alldredge helps students stay on track academically and helps bring them up to grade level. Some earn their high school diplomas.
Upon admission, students start the program in the Wilderness Search and Rescue adventure phase where students receive Search and Rescue Training, that includes First Aid and CPR, and Wilderness Survival Training, all learned in a safe but challenging environment. Next they learn how to be healthy members in a community by living and working together in the Mythical Village. When I entered the village I noticed several students were sanding, carving, and shaping wood in order to make their own wooden drums! During my visit I was invited into the Community Center where I was introduced to the students and asked to join them. As we talked to each other, I was surprised some of the students who had been living in the village only a little more than a week commented that this program was very helpful and they were glad to be here. As the conversation continued, a startling difference was noticed: these “old timers” were taking ownership of their problems as well as taking responsibility for their actions.
When asked how they felt about being in this program, several “old-timers” explained that while the program is difficult at first, once they “discovered” their beliefs were the root of their problems, they started accepting responsibility for their behaviors and were willing to make the necessary changes. These “old timers” also stated that working together and helping others created “unity in the community.”
When I visited the Residential Academic campus, I was greeted by students drumming in rhythm on the drums they had made in the Mythical Village. The students at Alldredge have performed at various schools in the local area and have recorded a CD. After several minutes of drumming, the students formally welcomed me. My first question was: “Can someone explain the ‘heartbeat’ that I had read about in the Alldredge Academy parent manual?” Students were quick to tell me that when a heartbeat occurs, change begins and one starts to take responsibility for his or her behavior and attitude. Another student stated that for him once a heartbeat started, a change in his behavior occurred on a deeper level not previously experienced. For this student and others, the deeper level was explained as understanding and experiencing that “everything” is bigger than one’s self and to be accepting of one’s self—a spiritual awakening.
As we continued, several students started to discuss the family workshop that requires the students and their prents to participate. Several students described this workshop as powerful with a lot of “good” crying for both parent and student. Every student in the room agreed: as a result of the family workshop, each family became closer.
This program is a unique wilderness program in the United States that both helps students experience a greater sense of themselves and encourages them to reach out to others as a way of experiencing their true selves. When they complete their program, the students take home the drum that they created and performed with during their re-awakening. Several parent support groups have been formed to conduct fund raising for scholarships, as well as to provide support for parents of adolescents who are attending Alldredge. I highly recommend this wilderness program for both males and females.