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Schools & Program Visits - Dec, 1998 Issue #55

Oakley, Utah
Dan Kemp, Director of Admissions

Visit by: Judi Robinovitz, CEP: October, 1998
888-438-1600, 561-241-1610 

Driving up to the entrance of the Oakley School, I couldn’t help but being awe-struck by the school’s appearance. If a ski lodge could be turned into a castle, it would be Oakley School! Entering Oakley’s spacious, yet cozy lobby, I felt as if I had walked into a 5-star ski lodge. With its vaulted ceilings, soaring stone fireplace, multiple seating areas, and western-theme lighting fixtures, I felt right at home flopping into a sofa laden with pillows. Dan Kemp, Director of Admissions, along with his dog, couldn’t have been more hospitable to Alan and me. Allowing Alan to grab a few winks on Dan’s office sofa, Dan escorted me around the campus, stopping to talk to friendly students and teachers, as well as the frogs and lizards in the zoology lab. 

Accredited by The Northwest Association of Schools & Colleges (NWASC) and the state of Utah as a regular boarding school, Oakley targets the student who has the ability to do well academically, but has slipped off the track in the past with:

  • Drugs & alcohol 
  • Depression 
  • Family difficulties 
  • School failure 
  • Oppositional behavior 
  • ADHD 

The Oakley student is one who has turned the corner at an emotional growth boarding school, an RTC, or a wilderness program, but isn’t quite ready for a less structured boarding school. He or she must be clean and sober for more than 4 weeks before coming to Oakley. 

With a capacity of 96 high school and PostGraduate (PG) students, Oakley had 27 students when we visited, with three more on the way the following week. Oakley offers open enrollment, accepting only students who come voluntarily, and will stop taking seniors on Jan 3. The average length of stay at Oakley is one year. 

Despite its classification as a regular boarding school, Oakley’s model is based on a positive peer culture with non-confrontational group sessions twice each week for an hour as well as two hours of individual counseling each month. Counselors are LCSWs and MSWs, and they communicate with parents on a monthly telephone basis. For students with substance abuse issues, there are voluntary, weekly AA meetings on campus, 1-on-1 sessions with a certified addictions counselor, and relapse prevention planning. There is a nightly “Sundown Group” to resolve dorm issues and to plan social activities. Dr. Belnap visits Oakley once each week to titrate students’ medications. 

Oakley academics are organized around seven 6-week blocks, Mon- Thurs. The college-prep curriculum encompasses five core subjects - history, English, foreign language, science, math - at the regular, Honors, and AP levels. Offering Spanish at present, Oakley has plans to add both French and Japanese. Electives include psychology and yearbook. Students are assigned about 30 minutes of homework a night for each subject, and there are two mandatory study halls each day. The grading system is a combination of the competency-based A-F system with effort grades. Oakley students are required to bring their own laptop computers to campus… equipped with an Ethernet card for Internet access in the library. Unique to Oakley’s curriculum is the module on Fridays and Saturdays, an all-encompassing activity. For example, the mountain biking module goes far beyond touring Utah’s mountain ranges to include flat tire repair and safety education. The art module enables students to experiment with abstract mountain art up the canyon. Students who elect hiking and backpacking even learn how to dry their sox in their tents without burning them down. 

Community service has not been overlooked at Oakley. Every fourth module day is dedicated to service, either on- or off-campus, from building a bridge on campus to volunteering at the Primary Children’s Hospital Burn Unit and doing trail maintenance for the Forest Service. 

Sunday is a student-directed free day, with choices dependent on citizenship form. Entry-form students cannot leave campus. Middle formers can leave campus with upper formers, going to the movies or the mall in Park City, or even snowboarding. 

Oakley’s campus is contained on almost 23 acres. Currently there are three buildings. At one end of a large pond is the 30,000 square foot main lodge (including classrooms, library/computer center, art room, zoology lab replete with myriad reptiles, multi- purpose room with stage, administrative offices, nurse’s office, dining room, kitchen, and capacious lounge). Then there are two 2-story modern-rustic dormitories (10,000 square feet each) a short walk from the lodge and facing each other on opposite sides of the pond. The common area of each dorm is an inviting gathering area with TV and VCR. The furniture there as well as in the student’s quad bedrooms is hand-made of natural logs. There are two pay phones on each floor, serving 24 students. Dorm staff are not faculty and are available 24 hours a day: one sleeps overnight and two are on-duty during the day. There are also faculty apartments in the dorms, but faculty have no dorm-related responsibilities.

There is some scholarship assistance available through the Livingood Foundation (Jack Livingood is one of the founders of Oakley, along with Island View’s Jared Balmer and Kimball De La Mar.). Several parents have applied for insurance, but so far the counseling component hasn’t been covered. 

For a real treat, stay at the Imperial Bed & Breakfast in Park City ($105 off-season for the top floor spiral staircase room), reserve time in their private hot tub, and dine next door at Grappa! 

Copyright © 1998, 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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