Sunrise Academy, a therapeutic treatment center for girls ages 12-17, is located seven miles off Interstate 15 in the small community of Hurricane, Utah. The building looks quite new, although I was told, parts of it had been renovated to match the new additions. We arrived mid-morning and were greeted at the door by the receptionist, who sits just inside the main entrance. Brian Pace, the program director, arrived promptly and began our tour through the school.
The administrative offices and therapy rooms are located
in the front section of the school. At Sunrise Academy, Masters level therapists offer individual, intensive group, family, recreational and psycho-educational therapies. Each girl is assessed upon arrival and a treatment plan is implemented. All staff members communicate about the status of each student to ensure her treatment plan is carried out.
Although there are no bars on the windows, Sunrise Academy does have an alarm system with locked doors and restricted access to the "living area". Staff members carry a small passkey to open doors between the office and living areas, as well as in certain rooms inside the living area.
After a brief tour through the administrative area, Brian took us through the family group room, down a hall and into the newly built kitchen. At the time of our visit, it was still undergoing slight renovations. Despite the construction, it felt open and airy, yet cozy at the same time. There were windows in the dining area and although the lights were off, there was plenty of light in the room.
We then moved up a small, carpeted staircase to the dorm area of the Academy. The doors to the dorm rooms were all open, and the dorms themselves were very neat and clean. Each of the bunk beds were made with clothing neatly hung in closets, or folded in baskets under the beds; nothing seemed out of place. In every bed, there was a stuffed animal or two, giving a feeling of childhood. The older rooms hold 6-8 girls while the newer rooms hold 3-4. Each girl has a locker for her personal items, which are accessed with assistance from staff members. Near the center of the rooms was a large community bathroom with showers. The bathroom was very clean, and gave a feeling of a spa rather than a treatment center.
Two classrooms are down the hall from the dorm rooms, and are joined by a door. The certified teachers share an office with windows on both sides that look into each room. Each class has mentors as well, and classes currently average up to 16 girls, which divides the school in half. The girls work independently with assistance from the teachers and mentors, allowing them to catch up on lost credits, or excel ahead at their own pace. Sunrise Academy is accredited by the Utah State Board of Education and the curriculum is fully accredited through the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. All credits are transferable.
As we took another stairway back downstairs, we came out in a large group room where the girls were participating in a group therapy session. The girls politely listened to each other and several smiled at us as we walked through.
We then went outside to the back yard. The yard was carpeted in a plush green grass with a basketball court close to the house. A crude shelter stands at the end of the property and houses two horses and some sheep. Brian explained how the girls rotated responsibility in caring for the animals, as well as the rest of the house chores. Girls who earn privileges get an opportunity to work with and ride the horses. They also go off campus to a nearby field for physical activities like softball, and can earn the freedom to work part-time at local restaurants and convenience stores.
Sunrise utilizes a five-level privilege system with zero being the lowest level and four being the highest. Most girls begin the program with basic privileges on level one. As they progress forward, some become defiant and drop back down to zero with no privileges. When the girls realize they need the structure of this program to make positive changes in their lives, they move to level two. Level three begins when a girl actively participates in instituting those changes in her life, and a level four girl becomes a peer mentor for the other girls in the program. The girls stay an average of six to nine months, and some attend after completing wilderness programs.
Two of the girls we met at Sunrise Academy had come into the program because they were drug users, defiant, manipulative and sexually promiscuous; yet, both had reached level four on the day of our visit. Each maintained excellent eye contact; they were excited and full of life, with clear eyes and child like smiles. The first girl openly attributed her success to Sunrise Academy. She mentioned most girls are resistant at first, but eventually they accept why they are there and begin working on self-improvement. The girls looked good and nothing during our visit felt chaotic.
The philosophy and overall feeling at Sunrise Academy, reminded me of when I attended Mission Mountain School 10-years-ago. It was small and personalized, but larger than a family style program. I feel Sunrise Academy is appropriate for the girl who is manipulative, failing in school, experiencing family conflict, experimenting with drugs or alcohol, and/or is sexually promiscuous, with low self-esteem.