Situated on 330 acres of Vermontís beautiful rolling rural countryside, King George School serves bright, creative students who need a supportive, structured environment to get back on track. Typical King George students are more in need of the type of structure found at an emotional growth residential boarding school, than they are of a therapeutic institution. Consistent with an emotional growth philosophy, the schoolís staff are encouraged not to refer to their studentsí diagnoses. The school emphasizes a holistic approach to education, which integrates college preparatory academics, an emotional growth curriculum and the performing arts to help students identify their talents and discover their capacity for success. Therapy is supplemental when needed.
During my tour I watched students involved in a variety of activities. They were stylishly dressed and seemed absorbed in what they were doing. I saw the theatre, where the students routinely perform plays, and the dance studio, where at the time of my visit a number of students were participating in a martial arts class. I also saw the art room, where the students were all working on their individual projects: paintings, drawings and small sculptures. The results of several of the studentsí previous projects were on display around the room. The students were courteous and happy to explain exactly what they were doing; the presence of visitors didnít seem to be very disruptive. At the very least, this suggests the students are used to a string of visitors, and could suggest they felt some degree of a sense of safety. The classes in the academic building were small; ten students were the most I saw in any one class. There were also some music practice rooms available for those who were musically inclined.
It was explained to me that the staff starts with the assumption that a new student can be trusted, in part based on the requirement that the studentsí enrollment is voluntary. This trust of course, is within reasonable limits. For example, the boys and girls dorms are about a half-mile apart, discouraging unauthorized contact, especially in the winter. A counselor is assigned to work with each new student for a period of six to eight weeks. By the end of that time period, enough is known about the student to assign him or her to an appropriate staff member for the duration of the studentís time at the school. The choice is based on the best match of personality, skills, and interests, for both the student and the staff member.
Groups of students periodically take a few days for a specific project. At the time of our visit, a group of girls had just finished a ten-day art retreat. Their artwork from the retreat was on display in a barn that had been extensively remodeled and converted for use by specific groups and for special activities. Each of the girls displayed her artwork and explained why it had meaning for her. This kind of retreat is an earned privilege that is also an emotional growth experience designed to help them learn both about themselves and specific skills of creative art.
The students participate in several workshops, partly depending on their specific needs. Some of these workshops are focused on learning, and others are more experiential. They have speech communication classes every day and they discuss issues of current interest to the students. Topics range from discussing school routines, to problems specific students might be experiencing. The studentsí perspectives and a positive peer culture are both important parts of the schoolís operation. It is expected that when students achieve an adequate level of responsibility, they will have be able to have a great deal of participation in developing the rules of the school. They also have an ďopen forumĒ once a week during sixth period, in addition to various groups that address specific issues. There are also groups that are based on age and gender.
An important part of King George Schoolís educational approach is the emphasis on the visual and performing arts, both academically and as part of the emotional growth curriculum. The school considers the arts to be an excellent tool for helping students who are locked up in their own problems, to learn how to express themselves and thus break out of their self-constructed emotional prison.
Academics are taught at a college preparatory level, using a traditional curriculum and class schedule. Students are in class 24 hours a week. Students with learning differences can be accommodated, and they have a certified special education teacher on staff.
Although the school primarily focuses upon providing a highly structured emotional growth school environment, they now also provide therapeutic support for students who may need the services of professional therapists. There are two psychiatrists available, and Director Knopf told me that about 40 percent of their students use some kind of medication. This percentage is higher for new students and lower for graduates, which reflects both the pervasive use of medication in our society for kids with problems, and the schoolís emphasis on removing students from medications when appropriate.
One of the activities available to interested students who demonstrate the required level of responsibility is what they call the Superheroes club. These students can be involved in community service activities, which are a very important way of encouraging emotional growth towards maturity, as it fosters the desire and ability to give back to the surrounding community.
King George Schoolís administration intends to keep the school small. They had about 55 students at the time of my visit, with 90 students being the absolute maximum size of student body they would consider.