Perched above the town on the edge of the summit of a hill, the students at Forest Heights Lodge are treated to a Rocky Mountain vista every day. In combination with the rural wooded area where the program is located, this background vista of jagged and towering mountains contributes to a healing atmosphere for the students. As my guide led me along the paths between the buildings, he pointed out the high points of the campus while explaining the purpose of each building we wandered through on my tour of the campus. Of special note, our first stop was the ever popular sandbox which consists of a very large box (about 8 or 10 feet on a side) next to a typical deck with picnic tables and grills for outdoor meals. Listening to my guide explain how the sand box was in constant use during free times and how BAR-B-Q grilling was common during good weather for school meals, this seemed almost the real center of the school. Considering a significant part of the population is pre-teen boys often immature for their age, it makes sense that building forts and truck roads in a sand box would be very popular. This is also an important part of the treatment approach used at Forest Heights, meaning that every child should have fun and the opportunity to be a child.
My guide was proud of his school and pleased that he was getting along with his parents much better than when he first arrived. He seemed to be well on his way to becoming a confident and responsible young man. As we toured the school, several older boys were playing basketball, and I saw the comfortable scene of boys scurrying around as the students prepared for lunch, socialized in the lounge off the dining room, cleaned their rooms or worked on their homework.
The Lodge is a small program with a maximum of 24 boys, ages 5 to 14 at the time of enrollment. The School is accredited for teaching from Kindergarten through the 12th grade. The woodshop gives the students a chance for hands-on work in doing creative projects and was an important class that was given a prominent role in my tour. All the students spend at least some time in the woodshop class. There are four certified teachers, and students start attending classes only when they have decided they want/need to and have prepared themselves to be attentive and to do their best at schoolwork. Staff explained to me that the program is almost always at full-capacity since there are always more applicants than space availability. I'm not surprised because ever since Woodbury Reports started doing an annual survey among Independent Educational Consultants, Forest Heights Lodge has always received almost universal approval.
The Lodge was founded 51 years ago in 1955, and from the very start the focus was on helping students learn how to develop relationships as a vital tool for healing. It has evolved with the times, becoming a sophisticated residential treatment center that is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare organizations (JCAHO), licensed by the State of Colorado, and their academics are accredited by the State of Colorado.
They currently work with young boys, and although they serve students with a wide variety of diagnoses, the three main areas include children who have problems with adults, with peers and with school. One observation was that about 90% of the boys had been home schooled or had failed in special needs programs before arriving at the Lodge, indicating the parents' last ditch effort to help their children before looking to a residential program for help. Their overall model is an Attachment Model, which was a logical extension of the Founders original intentions, and they have an excellent reputation for working with some very difficult to work with young boys, including students with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).
The school views Admissions very seriously. First, a child has to want to be there. They do not take students who are resistant to receiving help. Although a student might rather be home, he has also accepted that he needs something more and is willing to try the school. A child arriving with Transports is extremely rare for the same reason. During the admissions process, a key staff member goes to the family's home and lives with the family for two to three days. This allows the school to get a very complete evaluation on the suitability of the child and family and time to gather the reports and information the school needs to develop a complete treatment plan for that child.
I arrived for my visit during the regular weekly staffing meeting. All the key staff, including therapists and teachers, participated with a written outline of the treatment plan and progress for each student to be discussed. Each child is the subject of this very detailed staffing meeting at least once every three months. I was impressed by the care, concern and sensitivity of the staff, as well as everyone having a chance to share their personal experience with each child and how they interpreted what that meant in relation to the overall treatment plan. The communication among the staff was very detailed.
Families visit their child every four to six weeks, with these visits having two purposes. One is to work with the whole family on the important issues the child is facing. But perhaps even more important, in a therapeutic way also, is the Lodge does everything possible to make sure the whole family has fun together.
With the intense screening they do and the intensive and detailed work with the child and his family, I wasn't surprised to be informed that their outcome studies showed that 98% of their graduates were still living normal lives a year after graduation. This demonstrates that the detailed and sensitive attention to detail the Lodge pays as part of its regular routine pays off for the child and his family.