Visit Reports
Visit Reports

Sep 15, 2008, 13:50

(Rites of Passage)
Oracle, Arizona
Ike Shipman, MSW, Program Director

Visit by Nancy P. Masland, Dr. Susan Smith and Rebecca Redelsheimer, June 2008


Located 12 miles from Oracle, AZ and 6 miles from San Manuel in a canyon of 80 acres with a year-round spring and creek through the middle of campus, tall 500 year old trees and shade, Sycamore Canyon has it! Director Ike Shipman, a visionary leader, is heading a shorter term boys’ (13-17) program, currently for 30 ‘softer’ youth from the juvenile system. They are handpicked for motivation and willingness to take responsibility. ‘The boys change quickly and like it here.’ It will grow slowly to 50 in the next year. Part of a larger organization, Ike is developing a private pay program, begun in 2007, 4-6 months, with some unique features. The boys were enthusiastic and invested in their progress. The atmosphere is positive, compassionate and enlivened.

An inter-denominational chapel on the hillside is nestled among many ‘cottages’— some for students of different levels and staff (who stay over half the week); buildings which hold administrative, clinical and academic ; rooms for weights , dining , and visitation for weekly visits from parents; an outdoor amphitheater, basketball court, bridges and open areas.

The model is quasi-military though non-punitive, regimented with uniforms and Positive Peer Culture, where students take on real responsibilities for their peers. We witnessed a GGM (General Group Meeting) where peers bring up issues and resolve them with staff assistance; peer circles are called at any time when needed. The boys were accountable and willing to be responsible.

The school is a major part of the day, with competent teachers, some with Special Ed. Degrees, and a curriculum from Blue Print, a fine on-line program with self-paced packets for Math and English, used successfully by other programs. The boys are ecstatic about the gains they have made academically.

The medical staff has its building with secured medications, a sick bay and facilities for treating minor injuries. There is a full-time therapist who meets boys both one on one and in groups, as well as a case manager who keeps detailed records. The psychiatrist and psychologist are in an Oracle clinic to which boys are taken regularly. The Coach/ Counselor (on line staff) ratio is high, and the relationships are easy despite their size and commanding presence.

Community Service is a significant part of the program; the higher level boys go off campus to clear the nearby famous Arizona Trail, help with Horse Rescue and other needs of the wider community. Ike is clear that he does not want any project to be a ‘work crew’ detail. He is reaching out to Tucson (about an hour and a half away) for additional service opportunities. The lower level boys help beautify the campus with gardens, paint, and kitchen and maintenance work. They petition for the latter positions while obtaining food-handler and maintenance credentials, and they have excellent relationships with the staff. The food is balanced, outstanding tasting, nutritious and served on china.

Safety and Risk Management is exceptionally sound: there is a helicopter pad to evacuate for emergencies. Up-to-date fire equipment is essential, as wildfires are a threat during the summers. A T-1 high speed internet connection is being installed for broad-band, high-speed communication.

Recreation is mandatory with “18/20’s” (18 exercises of 20 repetitions each and a 3 mile run every morning); the fitness program is state-of-the-art.
The model is Behavior Modification for the Phase system. It begins with Orientation where they wear gray Tee shirts, and develop peer bonding with a ‘thigh slapping’ regimentation, drill and barrack-type living with bed boxes under their bunk beds. They are never ‘out of line of sight’. The Phase 2 “Interns” wear coats and ties, living in a more cottage-style dorm. Phase 3 is named RAMS, short for Respect and Motivation Students. They wear jackets with pride and lead the other students. All participate in the seven levels of confrontation, a stepped method of addressing behaviors, starting with non-verbal correction.

Sycamore is licensed and accredited by the Arizona Department of Economic Security Office of Licensing, Certification and Regulation. It is also accredited by the Arizona Board of Accreditation, North Central Accreditation Region, and is evaluated by the Arizona Standardized Evaluation Protocol (STEP).

Parents and families are encouraged to visit, and workshops are given each Sunday. Video conferencing is being set up for those who cannot attend; all are invited for a meal and tour of the campus.

Because of these unique features and spectacular setting, Sycamore Canyon has our vote for placement of boys with ODD and ADHD and mild clinical issues. They currently have several private-pay students... and more to come.

© Copyright 2012 by Woodbury Reports, Inc.