Visit Reports
Visit Reports

Nov 4, 2004, 16:45

Mount Pleasant, Utah
Michael Behunin, Executive Director

Visit by Larry Stednitz on October 1, 2004

Top Flight Academy is a 16-bed program for bright unmotivated boys who have oppositional defiant behaviors, depression, anger issues, and alcohol and drug problems. Executive Director Michael Behunin said the students excluded are those with unstablized bi-polar, violent history or active psychosis. The average stay in the program is nine months.

Top Flight is located in a sparsely populated area near Mount Pleasant, UT. The dining area, bedrooms, school and offices are all contained in one large, rustic, well-kept building. On the day of my visit, half of the students and staff were off campus preparing for weekend workshops and family activities.

The five owners of Top Flight Academy are experienced in working with adolescents in foster care and wilderness programs. Kent Johnson, one of the owners, is the Chief Pilot for Life Flight and the flight instructor for the students. On-campus, CEO Michael Behunin and Program Director KC Anderson provide the key leadership. Michaelís experience includes working as a line staff at Cinnamon Hills and director of the Transition program at Red Rock Canyon School in Saint George, UT. In addition, he spent over eight years in the military as a combat engineer and in intelligence. Prior to joining Top Flight, KC worked in a group home in the Mount Pleasant area. Both Michael and KC joined Top Flight within the last six months. They both exhibited a keen excitement and desire to address the individual needs of the boys, and were enthusiastic about their program.

A unique twist to the Top Flight program is the inclusion of flight instruction in their adventure/ experiential therapy. The students participate in a daily, two-hour class for flight instruction. Top Flight provides many of the elements found in a traditional flight school including instruction from an FAA Certified Flight Instructor who prepares them to take the FAA private pilot written exam. The only students allowed to fly are those who demonstrate a high level of responsibility. As in most adventure/ experiential activities, the students need to learn how to master their new environment. Learning to fly an airplane requires the student to process a high level of rigorous and demanding information, but holds the potential of boosting the self-confidence of the boys. It also helps them learn patience, accountability and leadership.

At Top Flight, the overall model of care is framed within Positive Peer Culture (PPC) practices. The PPC model encourages caring for others while influencing the students to assume work responsibilities. Each boy is included as a productive member of the group and is responsible for the effective running of the program. For example, students commonly run their own groups; this allows them to learn how to appropriately confront their peers and solve community problems. The belief at Top Flight is that PPC empowers students to develop internal change, not just outside behavior. The focus is to teach the boys to identify personal values and beliefs, and exhibit behaviors congruent with those values. The emphasis is on recognizing, resolving and preventing problems before they arise.

Each boy is seen twice weekly by the programís full-time licensed therapist, Kip Rasmussen, PhD. The boys participate in six groups per week. Chris McRoberts of Psychological Testing Services provides the psychological testing.

The school consists of one classroom and two licensed teachers who alternate shifts. An individualized education plan is developed for each student. The school uses an independent study program from Brigham Young University that allows motivated students to earn two full years of credit in one year.

One of the students I met at Top Flight had been there for six months. Ironically, late last year I had worked with him and his mother on the phone while he was in a larger program. I had gotten to know them well because of their disenchantment over that programís behavioral approach. Although I did not place him at Top Flight, it was a great opportunity to see how he had dealt with some of his issues. He said he liked the more casual environment of Top Flight and the peer problem solving approach. He said he has less interest in using drugs and alcohol, and that a week long visit home had gone well. He also seemed to thoroughly enjoy the flying that he has been able to do at Top Flight.

Top Flight currently has eight boys. It is licensed as a residential treatment center by the State of Utah.

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