Visit Reports
Visit Reports

Mar 21, 2008, 19:23

Albion, Michigan
Norman Olstrum
Admissions Director

Visit by Larry Stednitz, February 18, 2008

Montcalm is a not-for-profit therapeutic boarding school located in Albion, MI. Montcalm Schools are an outgrowth of Starr Commonwealth which was founded in 1913, working with orphans and later on, youth from various public sector entities like probation, mental health and public school systems. Starr Commonwealth's founder, Floyd Starr, is credited with the quote, "There is no such thing as a bad child." Situated on Starr Commonwealth's 350 acres, this well-equipped campus includes a school building, administration offices, five cottages, a library, full athletic fields complete with a swimming pool and an extensive indoor and outdoor adventure ropes courses. The Montcalm School for Boys was founded eight years ago when it opened its doors to the parent choice schools and programs network.

I met with several students, two of which I had referred. The boys were engaged in many activities and were clean, well behaved and seemed to be "at home." Each boy I spent time with was very positive about his experience at Montcalm. They liked the program and were quick to say things were going well with them. Their smiles indicated this to be true. Each boy was able to discuss specifics about his progress and none complained about being there even though they were relatively new students. When looking at their dorm, they were obviously proud of how clean and nice their cottage was. They told me about how they cooked and served meals in the cottage, an activity they enjoyed and they seemed proud of their own nicely kept cottage.

This writer was eager to explore how one program can address such a wide variety of disorders successfully. Not only do they work with a wide range of diagnoses, they do not shy away from very difficult students within these disorders. The School likes to refer to the groups as emotionally fragile, socially challenged (Asperger group) and substance abuse group.

No doubt they have seen it all as their history dates back nearly 100 years and began with working with homeless boys, many of whom have been involved in the juvenile justice, mental health and social service systems. Montcalm experience explains part of the reason they do not shy away from complicated youth.

One has to go back 100 years to look at the origins of Montcalm's belief systems. Montcalm states that its base is founded upon the goodness of all children and respects and helps them to identify their own personal strengths. Misbehaviors are thought to be a result of misdirected energy. They further believe that the group treatment and cottage living support even the most socially challenged children to respect one another and develop self-worth and confidence among peers. They believe in each child being able to reach his highest potential, and to achieve this, the child must have love and encouragement. Music, art and outdoor learning experiences are provided for hands-on learning. Physical, mental and moral development is an important component of their history. An old book on Starr Commonwealth quotes Khalil Gibran: "Work is Love made visible."

Montcalm and Starr Commonwealth like other early "orphanages" of nearly 100 years ago were often founded by one dynamic leader. Clinical professionals and independent consultants might be heard the saying "Love is not enough." No one could argue the lofty belief systems of these early pioneers, but what has Montcalm inserted into their treatment model to address the complexities of today's treatment?

Montcalm schools have added psychiatric services to meet the needs of today's young people's. The psychiatrist is frequently on campus and each boy's clinician and psychiatrist meet together with the boy to assure effective medical management. The Commonwealth's Montcalm Schools now also provide a clinician to every team. I found the clinicians to be well versed, and many had been with Montcalm from the program's beginning. The breadth and depth of the clinical group leaders' experience ranged from five to twenty years experience. Although many have an eclectic orientation, Positive Peer Culture (PPC) programs lend themselves to cognitive behavioral therapies. The Montcalm Schools have also intensified their family therapy components and regularly work with the families.

In the PPC model, each student is a member of a group consisting of 9 to 12 students. Each group resides in the group's cottages, travels the campus together, eats together and attends school together. Each classroom includes the teacher and program staff, allowing for special education needs and individualized instruction. Montcalm Schools has refined its treatment services including psychiatric, clinical and the ability to provide special education services.

Montcalm Schools are up-to-date and well experienced to work with complex students. In addition to this, I believe the Starr Commonwealth's humanistic and practical origins are still alive and well. For example, Floyd Starr's belief in the "goodness" of all children and the importance of identifying the students' personal strengths has persisted nearly 100 years. It became apparent to me that Montcalm students are respected and are helped to uncover and identify their own unique strengths. To this end, Montcalm is training its staff in Motivational Enhancement Interviewing, one of today's current "Best Practices" and is designed to help staff facilitate the student's understanding of themselves and become active in their own treatment.

They also have traversed the years with grand ideas of the importance of work and beauty. I have read and seen on campus Gibran's quote, "Work is love made visible." I also have seen and heard on campus the quote "Beauty is the silent teacher." The buildings and grounds are immaculately kept. The campus is clean, orderly and attractive. The school believes that this environment supports a student's self-worth. Hands-on experience with volunteer work, music and outdoor learning experience are all part of the fabric of Montcalm. As symbols of beauty, priceless paintings of the 14th and 15th centuries are exhibited in the museum located in the heart of the campus. And from this writer's eyes, these ideals are no less important than the advances Commonwealth and Montcalm have made in the delivery of clinical services. Love may not be enough, but it can come close.

An important factor often lacking in Parent Choice Schools and Programs is the length of time in operation and the experience of staff and leadership. Montcalm's founding father took his first students 93 years ago in 1913. Larry Bendtro, one of the founders of PPC took over the reigns in 1967. Ten years later, Arlen Ness became the CEO of the organization, followed by Marty Mitchell in 2002. All of these leaders, Mitchell, Ness and Brendtro, have one thing in common: they all served in one position or another under Floyd Starr. Through the years the lineage of Starr Commonwealth and Montcalm has remained phenomenally consistent. Starr Commonwealth is not a common place.

Montcalm is COA accredited and licensed by the Michigan State Department of Education.

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