Visit Reports
Visit Reports

Sep 27, 2010, 11:11

Virgin, Utah
Bobbie Jensen

Visited by Lon Woodbury on April 22, 2010

Falcon Ridge Ranch is located in a remote part of the southern Utah Red Rock country. The drive to it from St. George passes through fantastic vistas of flat-topped mesas and through the tiny town (no more than a wide spot in the road) of Virgin. It looks like an interesting town since it is the only tiny and remote town I've ever seen that boasts an Internet cafe.

A couple of miles past the town, we came to Falcon Ridge Ranch, a green oasis in the bare rock, brown grass and dryness common to valleys in that part of the country. The green grass, flowers, well painted buildings, horses, barn and other well-maintained outlying buildings stood in stark contrast to the surrounding hills.

Falcon Ridge Ranch is a program for girls 12-17 with behavioral and/or emotional problems requiring therapeutic intervention more intensive than traditional therapy but short of what might be found in a hospital. Their capacity is 22 girls, and there were 17 girls there at the time of my visit. The typical student has been diagnosed as being on the spectrum with high functioning Asperger's being common. They also have had success with students with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). The school has found that PPC and Equine Therapy go well together in working with this type of student. This is partly because the service the students do for the horses as an integral part of their program directly attacks low self-esteem, and also the honest straight forward attitude of the horses with no subtlety helps the girls learn how to develop relationships.

There are three basic elements to their program - academics, full equine program, and Positive Peer Culture.

They are accredited by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, the standard accrediting agency in this part of the country. Class sizes are small, the teachers are all certified, and each student has an individualized Student Education Plan (SEP), and/or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Classes are five days a week and the school can work with each student on the level they need through whatever technique best makes sense, ranging from direct classroom instruction, tutorial instruction, self paced independent study, and even collegiate academics and GED preparation and testing.

The structure of the program is based on Positive Peer Culture (PPC), a conflict resolution approach where the young women are encouraged to be creative in solving their own problems. A major part of this is helping the girls learn natural consequences and to become accountable for their choices through the interactions found in the Falcon Ridge Ranch community. The staff has received training in PPC by Larry Brendtro, one of the early pioneers of this approach. The girls are taught to focus on handling issues that would come up, largely through looking to others for help. They are taught to serve their own needs first, on the assumption they couldn't help others until they themselves were clear. This isn't a self-centered focus but simply the best way to be able to help themselves, their peers, their group and staff in that order.

The most obvious element is the Equine program. The school has 47 horses on 12 acres. Each girl is assigned a horse for which she is responsible, specifically the horse's care and grooming. This horse becomes much of her focus at the school. In addition to basic care for the horse, and of course the other horses also, each girl learns about relationships by developing a relationship with her horse in the Equine Therapy activities. Showmanship, which is common in many other programs with horses, is minimal since that doesn't have the healing benefits that Equine Therapy will. The school tries to have horses at all stages of life, from young horses to geriatric, so the girls will have a good sense of the whole life span of a horse.

We were given a tour of the facilities which were, as horse ranches go, immaculate. It showed a lot of care being given to the horses, their stables and the barn and outlying buildings. While we were there, a farrier (equine foot care) was traveling through the area and giving a demonstration. He was not only showing the girls how to trim horse hooves, but the blacksmith techniques of making horseshoes. It was a fascinating demonstration, and he was good at bringing the girls into the demonstration so they could experience what he was doing.

The girls looked good and they were active and positive about what they were doing at their school. The affection they showed for their horses was very visible, as if their horses were their best friends, and in many ways that was true. The school has always done well in my annual survey of professional educational consultants and after visiting I can see why.

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