Discovery Academy was founded in 1989 and subsequently purchased in 2003 by Redcliff Ascent, a wilderness program located in the state of Utah. The new owners have an extensive background and interest in experiential and adventure therapies. Within the adventure therapy, experiential education structure, Discovery now stresses a relationship model of care. Over the past two years, the Redcliff ownership has expanded and refined the experiential components of the program, while strengthening some aspects of the existing programming. Their philosophy is clearly different from the original behavioral approach and they stress significantly stronger and more positive relationships with the students.
There are six owners of Discovery; Dane Kay, Jim Salisbury, Scott Peterson, his brother Steve Peterson who are also the original owners of Redcliff Ascent, Brent Hall and Steve Nadauld. All six owners are Discovery Academy board members. Brent Hall serves as the executive director for Discovery and Steve is the admissions director for the Redcliff Ascent wilderness program. The clinical director for Discovery is Ken Condie, who was formerly a therapist for Redcliff wilderness. Discovery leadership clearly has sufficient experience and dedication in working with troubled teenagers.
Tori Ballard is the admissions director. Tori reported that the ideal student for Discovery is a boy or girl who is average to above average intellectually. Although Discovery will enroll students who have not completed a wilderness program, both Tori and Discovery like students who have had a significant treatment experience, preferably a wilderness program prior to their enrollment. These students, while having made positive gains in previous treatment settings are not ready to return home. They require a moderate level of structure and may have a variety of diagnostic profiles, ranging from depression, alcohol and drug abuse, anxiety and /or ADHD and ADD. They exclude students who have a history of significant aggressive or assaultive behaviors. Though it is not required, Discovery Academy prefers that students have an educational consultant. Tori describes Discovery as a "light" RTC, suggesting the acceptance of students who are clinically less complicated and severe.
According to Brent Hall, the program believes that young people today are having more serious difficulties because their lives have become so complicated. With influence from parents, TV, computer accessibility, the media and other sources, they are unable to integrate and simplify a confusing world. As a result of these complications within our current society, students are confused and grasping to make sense of their lives. Discovery's role is to help them simplify their lives and learn why it is important to slow down and establish manageable priorities. It is through this process that they are able to discover who they are and learn what is important to them.
Discovery Academy believes that experiential and adventure therapies are the best vehicles to accomplish the challenges of troubled teenagers. Regardless of the particular treatment modalities, all treatment at Discovery infuses experiential approaches as the thread that weaves everything together. Their belief is that any real education is a result of the student's personal and hands on experience.
However, Discovery Academy has all of the required elements of a residential treatment center. Licensed by the state of Utah as an RTC, students at Discovery are assigned a therapist and receive 90 minutes of individual and family therapy weekly. The program has a therapist to student ratio of 1:12. In addition to the individual and family therapy, many specialty groups are also conducted weekly. These include alcohol and drug education, relapse prevention, adoption, anger management and grief/ loss groups. The students also conduct on campus AA and NA meetings, and all students' complete 12-weeks of Eagala influenced equine therapy.
Students enter the program on the first of four levels, and as with most level systems this is how Discovery tracks each student's behavioral progress. To recognize and show appreciation for previous experiences, Discovery does allow students' who have successfully completed other treatment programs to begin at level two. It has been their experience that very few students regress to level one after beginning at a higher level.
Discovery also provides various wilderness type experiences throughout their stay to help the students re-capture some of the gains they made in the wilderness. The program stresses that their community based location further enhances their philosophy and allows students on the right levels to participate extensively within the community. For example, the program participates in an Independent School League, enabling them to play other schools in basketball, soccer, bowling and flag football. Additionally, students can participate in activities in the community like dance and creative writing. A student reaching the independence program in level four can greatly increase their participation in the community by having a job, taking lessons for a hobby or attending college.
The Discovery schedule is well structured; mornings are filled with community groups, study hall, chores, individual, group and family therapies and community service projects. School begins at 2:30 in the afternoon and continues until 8:45 in the evening. Students may earn up to eight credits per semester in comparison to the six allowed in the public school system, thus allowing them to catch up on lost credits. The school can also work with students who have specific learning problems.
Discovery considers themselves a modified transition program. Although they prefer a nine- to twelve-month commitment from students, they will take students for six months. Additionally, with a home for students 18 and older on the campus, Discovery is able to allow those turning 18 to continue until they satisfactorily complete the program. The school reports an unusually high completion rate for students age 18 and above.
The program is housed in two very large historical buildings connected by an atrium. Redcliff has made improvements to the physical plant over the last two years. An indoor gymnasium, sleeping quarters, dining areas, offices and classrooms are all within the two primary buildings. Although the buildings have sufficient space to provide all of the program's services, the buildings have a maze of connecting hallways and stairs that make them somewhat confusing to navigate. Although the buildings have sufficient space to provide all of the programís services, there is maze of connecting hallways and stairs that make them somewhat confusing to navigate.
With the gains made over the past two years in its leadership, Discovery recently earned a place in the soon to be published Woodbury Reports, Inc. 16th Edition of the "Parent Empowerment Handbook."