Stone Mountain School, located on 100 rural acres in western North Carolina, is a rustic, outdoor-based boarding school for 11 to 16-year-old boys who have ADHD, learning disabilities and/or behavioral problems. Combining small, specialized academic classes with a wide range of activities, Stone Mountain School attempts to integrate the local natural environment of the Blue Ridge Mountains into its educational and treatment program.
Students at Stone Mountain advance through a five-level behavioral system. Progress through each of the levels is based on behavioral and academic goals. This progress is monitored by the student himself, his peer group and adult staff. Greater privileges are earned as the boy advances through the highly structured levels of the program. On average, students remain at the school for about 12 to 16 months. There is a 9 month minimum length of stay.
The boys at Stone Mountain live in rustic cabins that are scattered throughout the wooded grounds. There are about 10 to 11 boys per cabin, and each group has 4 residential staff, 2 of whom are on duty at all times. The cabins have only the basic amenities, including solar-powered generators for limited lighting. Flush toilets, with a state-of-the-art septic system, and a relatively new shower and washroom facility are also available to the students. Boys who advance to the last level of the 5-level system earn the privilege of living in a more traditional dormitory building that has full electricity, hot and cold water, plumbing, etc. Under adult leadership, the boys who live in the cabins are responsible for maintaining and beautifying the area around each cabin, and, from what I observed, they do so quite capably. The cabin that I visited had, as its "front yard," a stunningly creative display of horticulture, agriculture and landscape design that I was told had been built by students over the years. This lovely, peaceful, student-built landscape included a small vegetable plot, a rock garden, and a frog and goldfish pond, all irrigated by a natural looking canal system that meandered through and around the garden. It was quite impressive.
Students at Stone Mountain School engage in a wide range of activities, many of which are focused on the outdoor, mountain setting of the school. These include camping, rock climbing, canoeing, rafting and hiking, as well as agricultural and horticultural activities. Team sports played on the intra-mural level include soccer and what sounded to me like a horseshoes-type game called corn-hole. Indoor activities include art, chess and yoga. On weekends, when the rustic main dining room is closed, the boys also learn to cook on wood stoves in open-air structures situated next to their cabins.
Students at Stone Mountain have four basic academic classes per day (English, social studies, math and science), and the curriculum is meant to match that of a typical middle school or high school. There is an average of 5-6 students per class, and the students move from subject to subject in all but one of the groups. The latter is a self-contained class of about 10 younger boys. Approximately 70% of the students at Stone Mountain have a language-based learning disability. As a result, a variety of special educational services, both innovative and research-based, are offered to complement the academic program. There is generally an additional fee for these services. Among the more innovative special education services described to me is a type of biofeedback called the interactive metronome program, which is designed to help children with attention and activity level problems. The school is planning to add what they describe as a more advanced neuro-feedback program, also for children with attention and activity level problems. There is an Orton-Gillingham certified teacher on grounds, available to offer multi-sensory tutoring, one of the research-based services offered to learning disabled students at the school. Stone Mountain School is licensed by the North Carolina Department of Non-Public Education and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Division of Exceptional Children as a Special Education School.
Parents, who can arrange for their sons to receive clinical services, such as psychotherapy, receive written (email) updates on their son's treatment weekly. They are also required to attend two of the four Parent Seminars held at the school each year. Stone Mountain alumni are eligible for one year of after-care, which includes telephone consultations and participation in scheduled alumni family adventure outings.
On my visit, I met with Director of Admissions Paige Thomas, and Executive Director Sam Moore. Paige has been at Stone Mountain for 4 ½ years, and Sam has been there more than 12 years, the last 2 as executive director. Sam impressed me as an energetic and open minded leader, fully committed to the unique treatment and educational model used at Stone Mountain. He spoke enthusiastically about his program and its components, and he came across as very encouraging of staff-initiated innovations.
During my visit, I was escorted by an adolescent who had been at the school for about a year. He described himself as having been very impulsive and socially inappropriate prior to his entering Stone Mountain, though now he presented as a quiet and well-mannered young man. He reported that he was on the highest level of the 5-level system, and that he was now planning to return to a high school near his home. At lunch in the open-raftered dining hall, I met a few more level 5 students, as well as their counselor, who told me that he had been working at Stone Mountain for about 2 years. Of the boys I met at lunch, 3 were from the east coast and one from the west coast. They had been at Stone Mountain for various amounts of time, ranging from 11 months to 2 years, and most had had problems with impulsive behavior, often with other problems, prior to their placement at the school. One told me that at Stone Mountain he had "learned to think about stuff before I do things." Two of the boys said they would be returning to their local public schools, and one said that he would be attending a boarding school after leaving Stone Mountain.
According to Sam Moore, Stone Mountain School is designed to serve boys with ADHD, language-based learning disability and mild oppositional defiant disorder. Boys with non-verbal learning disability and Asperger's Disorder will also be considered. Children with mental retardation are not good candidates for Stone Mountain, and students applying to the school should have an IQ of about 85 or above. Children who are psychotic, suicidal, violent or assaultive, or those with an active substance abuse problem are not good candidates for this program. However, the school will consider a child with a history of relatively mild drug usage.
About the Author: Stephen Migden, PhD, is a psychologist and educational consultant who works with behavior disordered, emotionally disturbed and learning disabled students of all ages. His office is in Roslyn Heights, New York. Visit Dr. Migden's website at www.psychologicalandeducationalservices.com or call 516-625-0824 for more information