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School & Program Visit Report - Apr, 1993 Issue #21 

Ranel Hanson, Admissions Director
Bonners Ferry, Idaho
Lon's Visit: February 12, 1993

With a long-stemmed rose in one hand, and a lit candle in the other, the nine students somberly stood in front of the rest of the student body. They had just completed the Summit Workshop and this was the traditional ceremony of "returning" to the school community. After a week of intensive work on their emotional growth in the Summit Workshop, which was on top of more than two years of emotional, mental and physical growth in the Rocky Mountain Academy program, these students exuded poise, confidence and excitement for their up-coming graduation and post-RMA future. Bright-eyed, freshly scrubbed, and dressed neatly, these young adults at that moment would have made any parent in America proud, especially considering how fearful, angry, and out of control the students had been when they first enrolled.

Then, with the sudden crashing of music as a cue, they radically changed the mood and burst into enthusiastic dancing as an expression of the enthusiasm they felt, rapidly bringing the rest of the students into the dancing. Soon, almost everyone in the room was dancing, but I could see an obvious difference between the Summit graduates and the rest of the students. The Summit graduates seemed more centered, more spontaneous, with less self consciousness in their dancing than the rest of the students.

The dancing was followed by brief talks by each of the nine, reporting on what they had just experienced. The sense of accomplishment and experienced feelings were so deep that words failed them. They fell back on relying mostly on non-verbal ways of expressing how wonderful they felt.

This "returning ceremony" from a Propheet/Workshop is symbolic of the heart of the RMA program. For years, it has been the crying need for emotional growth which has been the primary reason students are enrolled there by their parents.

One way to describe an RMA child is one who is emotionally stuck at an earlier age. These are the children who missed basic lessons vital to responsible adulthood, such as how to make good friends, the importance of truth, how cause and effect work, how to live by values, and avoiding self-destructive behavior. Having missed these lessons, they are making bad decisions.

To meet their needs, each RMA child goes through nine 24 hour plus Propheets/Workshops, of which the Summit Workshop is the last one just before graduation. Each Propheet/workshop focuses on one of the basic lessons a child needs to learn to become an effective and functioning adult.

Propheets/Workshops have been the heart of the RMA emotional growth curriculum for all of its existence. These are supplemented by individual counseling when appropriate, and groups, which RMA calls RAPS, which occur up to three times a week. Add to this the work ethic from a working farm, the school's form of experiential education, outdoor and wilderness activities, and you have a school focused on helping those students grow up who missed the early vital lessons.

The above is a description largely from the RMA I knew during the five years I had been Admissions Director for the school. Like any successful organization, in the four years since I left, RMA has changed to reflect new insights and the changing needs of students and their parents. One purpose of my visit was to better understand some of the changes I had been hearing about.

RMA education had traditionally been adequate, but always less emphasized than the emotional growth part of the program. There are signs RMA is now making a more serious effort to make their education more effective for the unique needs of their students. The timing of my visit was not good for a proper look at the academic program. But, I managed to have some conversations with teachers who were enthused about their work, which in any education situation is half the battle. The teachers are very open to applying the results of research on learning behavior, and conversations were filled with references to theories and research results on experiential education, accelerated learning, and the function the left and right brain hemispheres play in learning. The school's move to three hour time blocks reduces the "tyranny of the bell." RMA has recently hired several new staff with education expertise, which suggests a commitment to strengthening their academic results.

The concerns many Educational Consultants have with recent RMA changes revolves around the change in admissions policy which is to consider and sometimes enroll a student on psychotropic medication. The school is now also open to the possibility some of these students might not be weaned off medication and would need to be maintained on it throughout their stay at RMA.

One main reason this has become an issue with RMA is probably because RMA was so adamant and purist in its past policy of no medicated students. Many other schools have made this shift without it becoming an issue, but none of them had been so successful while being so adamant in screening out children on medication.

Rob Spear, RMA President, says the only change in the school is to expand the types of students RMA can successfully work with. He told me that RMA is continuing to enroll the same kind of child it always has. But, where once a child would have been expelled or screened out, the school is now establishing ways to meet those needs so he or she can be retained rather than expelled. Looking back at my experience as Admissions Director at RMA, this makes sense. When a child was expelled while I was there, it was because he or she had a need the school could not meet. It is possible in many of those situations, the child could have graduated from RMA instead of being expelled, if the school had had the capabilities it is now working at developing.

For example, those children who were expelled because of not being able to handle the confrontational nature of RAPs might have benefited from the "soft" RAPs developed and run by psychologist David Maselli. That child who could not be enrolled in the past because the parents had to make a placement before the child could be weaned off medication, can now be weaned off medication after being on campus. Those children who played "crazy" in order to get expelled will be more likely to be frustrated in that game because the school now has more resources to respond to that kind of behavior or pathology.

RMA has always been a dynamic and changing school with all the tensions that change brings about. I for one, will be watching this latest change with the question, "Is it still the same RMA with expanded capabilities, or is something basic being changed?"

Copyright 1993, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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