Cherry Gulch officially opened on August 14, 2006, and is the collective effort of owners Dr. Andrew Sapp, Michael Ervin, Betty Ervin and Dr. Chris McRoberts. It has the maturity of a much longer running school, as everyone has years of experience and an extensive background in the therapeutic industry. Cherry Gulch was created to help boys attain their full potential and become pro-social young men through early intervention. Their focus is "Building Brighter Tomorrows for the Boys of Today." It is a ranch-style, therapeutic boarding school designed for 10 boys, ages 10 to 14 years old.
The typical student struggles with issues such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder, low self-esteem, learning differences, poor motivation, anger, oppositional-defiance, grief and loss, adoption, family conflict, and other behavioral or emotional problems. Cherry Gulch is well equipped to handle boys who are acting out as well as those that present with more internalized behaviors. A 10-year-old boy would need to be mature for his age and the 14-year-old relatively immature. The minimum length of stay is 6 months. A boy with an IQ below 80, Autism, drug addiction, a history of violence, Psychotic Disorders, a criminal record or a history of sex offense would not be an appropriate student.
After a short drive from Boise through gently rolling hills, Susan Grossi and I arrived at Cherry Gulch, located just outside of Emmett, ID. Cherry Gulch is a true working ranch with 650 rolling acres, six horses, three goats, chickens, rabbits and a therapy dog. We entered the doublewide trailer currently serving as the residence and academic facility and were pleasantly surprised. It felt very warm, homey and inviting with its rustic, Western décor. The trailer houses a combination living/school room, a kitchen area with a table large enough to accommodate all of the students and faculty, an office and the boys' bedrooms. The students and staff were about to have lunch so we joined them. All meals are eaten family style, with the boys having various kitchen responsibilities such as clearing the table and doing the dishes. The homemade lunch consisted of soup, chili, grilled cheese sandwiches and fruit. The boys chatted with everyone in a friendly, easygoing manner and eagerly told us about their time at the school. There were three students present on our visit with two more scheduled enrollments the next week. The boys encouraged us to "send more students" and assured us that the new boys would "really like being here". When we asked them what new students would like about Cherry Gulch, there was no shortage of answers. We heard about their experiences with the horses, the planting they had done, their community service, the outdoor experiences and the great staff. They all had high praise for the activities and unanimously agreed that one of their favorite things at Cherry Gulch was Andy Sapp.
Dr. Andrew Sapp, the Founder of Cherry Gulch, is the Clinical Director. There are 10 to 14 scheduled hours of therapeutic services each week. Therapy consists of two hours of group and equine therapy, an hour of family therapy, two to four hours of experiential therapy, an hour psychology class, an hour community meeting, two to four hours of rec therapy, and one to two hours of individual therapy generally broken up into shorter time segments. There is also art, bibliotherapy, sand tray and play therapy. Andy uses empirically-based, primary interventions that have been demonstrated to be effective either through scientific research and or clinical experience. He explained that given the ages and attention span of the students, much of the therapy is accomplished in the moment when a student has an emotional response such as anger, frustration or sadness in his daily life. Andy has created an integrated approach to treatment using the program to its fullest. Farming, ranching and agriculture are all essential parts of the student's therapeutic experience and are tailored to individual needs.
Education is an important part of Cherry Gulch and they are equipped to handle very bright students as well as those with learning disabilities. In order to ensure academic success as opposed to failure, every boy undergoes assessment testing to determine his appropriate academic level. The accredited K12® Curriculum that is used includes six core classes: Language Arts, Math, History, Science, Art and Music. In addition, there are supplemental courses such as Spanish, Computers and Etiquette. Each student has an individualized education plan that is comprised of on-line lessons, hands-on activities, small sized classes and Smart-Board time. Jim Schreck is the full time, year round, Masters level head teacher that oversees the academics. Jim has several years experience working with "challenging" youth, and it shows. The boys eagerly presented their work to us and boasted about their success in school. One young man proudly told us, "I can do math now!"
After spending time with the engaging students, we went on a tour of the 8000 sq. foot lodge being constructed on top of a hill that overlooks a serene scene of rolling hills and the winding Payette River. On the way, we also saw a new barn under construction. The town of Emmett offers a variety of lessons and activities that are utilized by the school. There is an 1100-acre reservoir in the vicinity that boasts many water related activities. Nearby Boise has 15 museums, many cultural offerings and sports teams. There are also three ski areas in short proximity to Cherry Gulch. Each summer the boys spend three to four weeks at Camp Stanley (Outdoor School) located in the Sawtooth Mountains. Given what the school and surrounding area offers, each boy is afforded the opportunity to explore his personal interests.
Seeing the beautiful location, quality academics, well thought out therapeutics and the warm, caring, compassionate staff, it's easy to understand why the students were so enthusiastic about Cherry Gulch.
Update: March 9, 2007- Although Cherry Gulch is now full with 10 students, they are putting the finishing touches on their lodge and will be able to enroll an additional 10 students by early April.