With the grand opening on November 1, Ruth McKnight, Director of Northwest Academy (NWA), Bonners Ferry, ID, 208-267-7522, said she has spent much of her time focusing on getting her core group into position to begin accepting new students and referrals.
Ruth explained that unlike other programs, NWA is not able to reenroll students who were attending when the program was shut down last spring. "We are only licensed to accept students who are 17-years-old when they begin the program. A lot of our former students would not only find it daunting to return to the program after this much time has passed, but according to state law, we cannot have more than half of our students 18 or over at any given time. So with only having about 3-4 new students age 17 when we open, we'd have well over what the state would allow for the number of 18-year-olds."
Although she believes bringing back former students to create a senior peer group would be a great way to jump-start the peer culture for newly enrolled students, it just isn't a viable option.
As far as the type of kids accepted at NWA, Ruth said the programs will still take kids on medications, but they review each case prior to admission. "We find out what medication they are taking, the dosage, how long they have been on the medication and whether the problems are ongoing. If a kid is on meds but continues to exhibit attitudinal and behavioral problems, then the meds are not solving the problem; they are just suppressing the behaviors."
When an 18-year-old student says they want to stop taking their meds, they are told they have to appoint three responsible adults on the campus that they trust to help them come to the right decision if being off the meds doesn't work. "Often times, the kids won't see that they are unable to cope or make good decisions when off the meds. After they agree to do this, we work with the consulting psychiatrist to make sure that they taper off the meds in a reasonable manner. For our program, by the time they turn 18, students have the right tools to deal with a lot of the things that might come up when they go off the meds, so the percentage of those who can't make it without the meds is only about 25 percent."
Lon Woodbury, President/ Founder, Woodbury Reports, Inc., Bonners Ferry, ID, 208-267-5550, said "There are two tragedies here, both equal: If a kid needs medication and doesn't get it, that's a tragedy as well as grossly irresponsible, however, the same principal applies to kids who are on medications and don't need them."
Ruth said she really believes Mel Wasserman, founder of CEDU, had the right idea with his belief that kids needed to be removed from the distractions that kept them from settling. "I believe that surrounding them with beauty and putting them in an environment that is natural, not fake or plastic, provides a deeply therapeutic effect."
To be accepted at NWA, students must first complete a wilderness program. However, NWA will consider students coming from a residential treatment setting on a case-by-case basis, but will not accept a child coming straight from home. "We work with kids who are looking their 18th birthday straight in the eye and want to get their diploma and go on to college. We very much fill a niche that few other programs can fill. Our students participate in individual therapy sessions once a week, and are assigned a treatment team. Although we do not fit into a medical or hospital model, we do offer a therapeutic component."
As for the hiring process at NWA, or the other newly acquired Universal Health Services programs in North Idaho, all prospective employees have to go through the application and screening process. "We are accepting applications, but everyone must realize that when the program was shut down last spring, we had about 60 kids, that is not the case now. The number of people we hire will be very small at the beginning, but we hope to hire back the best of the best. For us or any business, it's rare to have the opportunity of basically starting with a clean white page."
For the staff hired by NWA, Ruth said she feels it is important that her staff is offered training that teaches them "why" a situation should be handled a specific way and not just "how" to handle it that way.
Ruth and her husband Doug first became involved with the CEDU programs as parents of a son who was placed into Boulder Creek Academy. After he successfully completed the program in 1998, the couple became employees. "Brown Schools bought it right after we were hired. My husband and I both practiced law in Seattle, and because of what CEDU had done for our son and family, we decided we wanted to be part of this process. We left our law practice, submitted our applications and we started out as resource coordinators, me at NWA and Doug at Rocky Mountain Academy. That was seven years ago, and in that time, I became the Director of NWA."