New Leaf Academy of North Carolina is a boarding school for pre-adolescent and early adolescent girls experiencing adjustment or emotional difficulties. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it is a member of the Aspen Education Group of Cerritos, CA. Its sister school with the same name is located in Bend, OR.
The North Carolina campus opened in 2005 with the goal of providing an extended middle school program to 10 to14-year-old girls who are performing below their potential in school and/or making poor decisions in their personal lives. New Leaf focuses on character development education to strengthen academic skills, improve self-image, and create more positive family/peer relationships. Since opening a year ago, the school has undergone fairly rapid growth and is close to its capacity of 50 students.
The typical New Leaf student is socially and/or emotionally immature but with average to above average intelligence. Many are diagnosed with ADHD, depression, bi-polar, anxiety and/or mild oppositional defiant disorders. Some students have mild learning disabilities and some are diagnosed as high functioning students with Asperger's Syndrome or non-verbal learning disability. I was told that girls with school phobias are frequently seen at New Leaf. Students with significant problems such as physical aggression outside the home, serious running away, or sexual promiscuity are typically not served by New Leaf. The average length of stay is 18-24 months and the program offers year-round enrollment.
Students at New Leaf progress through a three-stage level system: Sun is devoted to accepting and understanding the rules and values of the school; Moon emphasizes personal responsibility with a focus on the issues that brought the student to the school; and in the Star level students are expected to demonstrate leadership skills as they prepare to transition out of New Leaf Academy. According to the New Leaf administrative team, which includes Executive Director Catherine "Cat" Jennings and Program Director Robiyn Mims, the treatment program emphasizes student initiative. For example, girls must petition for various earned privileges and counseling sessions are not set to a pre-arranged schedule, they are flexible to the student's request. However, weekly group sessions are scheduled. New Leaf offers an animal therapy program where students learn to care for animals on the school grounds. Family involvement includes a three-day weekend every two months, two two-day seminars, and one family week. Home visits typically occur after the student is in the program for about 12 months.
The educational program includes seven classes per day with about 8-12 students in each class. Students are grouped by functional academic level, and the school develops an individual academic plan for each student. Accommodations and supports are offered for students with learning differences. Although extra help is available, there is no specific remedial program for learning disabled students. More advanced students may take Spanish as a foreign language. Current physical education and extra-curricular activities include dance, fencing, yoga, volleyball, soccer, basketball and baseball. There is a runners' club, a golf club and plans to build a gymnasium.
The two girls with whom I met had each been at the school for about one year. One described being there because of conflicts with her parents, the other because of anxiety problems. They said the best thing about being at New Leaf of North Carolina was learning how to better communicate with their parents, while the hardest thing was how not to give in to peer pressure and learn to make their own decisions. They thought the academic program was supportive, yet challenging, and were positive about other aspects of the school such as the social climate, weekend activities and the food. The kids I observed seemed happy and comfortable. In their school uniforms of plaid skirts and white collared shirts, they seemed no different than the girls I see every morning walking to the local parochial school near my home as I drive to the office
The girls that I met with described a typical day at New Leaf. They said they wake up at 6 a.m., do room chores and have breakfast together, family style, at 7 a.m. After breakfast, there are more chores, then school (with a break for lunch), until 2:45 p.m. The school day is often followed by a group meeting with quiet time in the late afternoon when the girls do homework and journaling, which is a significant aspect of the treatment program. After dinner the girls may participate in more quite time, or informal group activities and processing in the dormitory living room. On weekends, New Leaf provides organized outings and arranges for students to attend church or synagogue if they choose.
New Leaf Academy of North Carolina has a non-public school license and a special education certification from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Currently, the program is an official candidate for accreditation by the Southeastern Association of Colleges and Schools with an accreditation site visit expected this fall. To accommodate its rapid growth, New Leaf Academy of North Carolina is planning a number of changes and additions, including building a gymnasium and a separate dorm for girls who have advanced to the Star stage of the level system.
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.psych-edservices.com or call 516-625-0824 for more information