Aug 3, 2008, 17:18

By: Larry Stednitz

This question comes up in conversations with many of my families. Utah seems to be the Silicon Valley of the Parent Choice schools and programs, which is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. There are easy answers to the question and other explanations that are more subtle. Forty-five Utah programs are listed and described in the Woodbury Reports' Parent Empowerment Handbook. No other state comes close to that number of programs. This fact is even more remarkable given that the programs in this handbook are documented as being quality programs by independent educational consultants across the country who work in this network.

The first reason for the large number of programs in Utah begins with Provo Canyon School. Provo was founded in 1971 with its humble beginnings as a group home. Provo grew into one of the largest and best-known residential treatment programs in the country. Known for working with difficult teenagers, the refrain from parents and professionals across the country was "If you don't shape up, you are going to Provo Canyon!" Over the years, Provo Canyon has trained and influenced hundreds, if not thousands, of childcare staff, medical staff, teachers, clinicians and other support staff. Many moved on to begin their own versions of Provo. In doing so, they took knowledge and experience from Provo, adding their own bells and whistles to create their own programs. One example will illustrate this: Jerry Spanos, CEO of the Heritage Center, worked at Provo, eventually leaving because he had the belief that the most important treatment entity was directly related to the quality of relationships with clients. He felt this approach would be a great improvement to the strict methods of control practiced at Provo in the 1980's. Jerry started Heritage Center in 1984. Today the two programs treat over 500 young people every day. Heritage is but one of many programs that "grew" out of Provo over the years.

The second major impact was the development of wilderness programs. Doug Nelson, Larry Olsen and Ezekiel Sanchez were early pioneers of wilderness programming. All three men were involved with Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. There they developed wilderness programming for BYU students who were not achieving at levels of which they were capable. This program had great success, and out of this experience, Doug Nelson developed what is now called Aspen Achievement Academy (AAA). Over the years, AAA also trained and influenced many therapists, medical staff, logistics personnel, field instructors and others who had learned how to operate a wilderness program. It is very difficult to find a wilderness program in the State of Utah that has not been influenced by these three men and, specifically, Aspen Achievement Academy. From these modest beginnings, wilderness programs in Utah have developed more than 10 fold since 1989 when AAA was founded.

The culture of Utah is also unique and lends itself to the development of programs that are intended to help others. Utah citizens as a whole place value upon the family and community, perhaps more than any state in the Union. This sets the stage for supporting parents in getting help for their children and developing laws and regulations that effectively manage the huge number of programs in Utah.

Another major cultural characteristic of Utah is all said on their license plates: "UTAH! The Beehive State." Its citizens have a deeply ingrained practice of doing things well, whether it be a smoothly run Olympics, an efficiently operated airport, a downtown that is clean and easy to navigate or their numerous and respected universities and colleges, which also fuel programs with talent. Utah values achievement and entrepreneurial initiatives as well as hard work. It is no wonder that Utah leads the country in the development of programs for troubled children and families. From where I sit, the citizens of Utah and their culture have set the stage for their success in our industry.


August 25, 2008

I would also add that Utah's State laws are conducive to residential treatment and are some of the most well-thought-out, collaboratively-written laws concerning teen treatment in the nation.

Dustin Tibbitts, LMFT
Executive Director
New Haven

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