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Therapeutic Boarding School:
A Positive Environment for Struggling Pre-Teens

Sending a child to therapeutic boarding school is never easy, particularly when the child is a 10- or 11-year-old girl. While going away to school isn’t the answer for every child, for some it is the only answer.

“By the time parents are considering a therapeutic boarding school, life at home has often become so difficult, and relationships so damaged, that removing the child from the environment is the best way to give everyone a chance to heal,” said Craig A. Christiansen, M.A., the Executive Director at New Leaf Academy, a therapeutic boarding school for girls ages 10 to 14.

In some cases, keeping a struggling pre-teen at home is more injurious to their self-esteem than spending a semester or two at a therapeutic boarding school. A change of environment can give the child a chance to see herself more objectively and begin to understand how her behavior is hurting herself and her family. In a safe, therapeutic setting, she is able to re-evaluate her choices and get motivated to make changes.

At the same time, parents receive the support, education and skills that they need to make changes of their own. When the child returns home, the entire family has adopted a new language and communication style, creating a new family dynamic.

One Family’s Difficult Choice

When choosing a therapeutic program for a pre-teen, every parent has to make the decision they believe is right for their child. For Shannon Smith*, New Leaf Academy was the best alternative to traditional school for her daughter, Emily*, who struggled with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and anxiety. After trying both public and private schools and growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of resources available to them, the Smiths brought Emily, then 10, to New Leaf Academy.

Like any parent, Shannon worried about whether her daughter would feel abandoned or lose trust in her parents, but she followed her instincts that New Leaf would be a great fit for Emily. For a number of reasons, therapeutic boarding school was the right choice for her family.

A Home-Like Environment

New Leaf Academy is an ideal environment for pre-teen girls struggling with emotional, behavioral and learning issues. In addition to rigorous academics and advanced clinical services provided by master’s level therapists, New Leaf provides a home-like, nurturing environment tailored to the specific needs of younger teens.

Shannon chose New Leaf in part because the school is specifically designed for younger girls. Emily could receive the services and therapy she needed and still be a kid, while Shannon could rest easy knowing that her daughter was safe in an all-girls environment where she would be cared for and nurtured.

“New Leaf has a real homey feel about it – the staff and students are like one big family,” Shannon said. “The staff is extremely dedicated and truly cares about the students.”

Individualized Treatment Plans

“You can just tell when you visit New Leaf that it’s a great place for young girls,” said Shannon. “When making the choice, I had a gut feeling and trusted it.”

Because New Leaf Academy accepts a limited number of students, Shannon was confident that Emily would get plenty of individualized attention and wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the number of other students. Because of the small classroom setting, each child gets a truly individualized education plan and teachers who work to help each child achieve their goals.

“Emily didn’t feel like an outcast at New Leaf because every girl was working on something – and if she did anything that bothered someone else, there was an immediate, respectful process for dealing with it,” said Shannon. “For the first time, Emily had friends, played sports, and was able to participate in sleepovers and birthday parties.”

Meeting Every Need

When they found New Leaf Academy, the Smiths found a place that could meet all of their daughter’s needs at one time. Emily learned tools that she could use at school and at home, adopted a new way of approaching her relationships, and developed the motivation to make lasting changes.
 
“We felt supported in a way we had never felt before,” said Shannon. “Rather than running around trying to figure out what Emily needed and who we could trust, Emily received therapy, social skills training, psychiatry, horsemanship, occupational therapy and more, all in one place and from caring, highly qualified professionals.”

The staff at New Leaf follows a team approach, ensuring that the teachers, therapists, medical staff and residential staff are in constant communication and collaboration. As a result, students benefit from a level of consistency and predictability that is difficult to find elsewhere.

Family Support

Even though it’s never easy for a parent to be away from their child, Shannon was reassured by the level of support she received from New Leaf staff. She and Emily could write to each other whenever they wanted to, and the New Leaf therapists kept her informed of Emily’s progress, even telling little stories so that Shannon knew what was happening in her daughter’s daily life.

The Smiths also appreciated the family seminars offered at New Leaf, which provided an outlet for sharing stories and receiving support from other parents who could relate to what they were going through.

“Our experience with New Leaf Academy has been positive for the whole family,” Shannon said. “We had our reservations about sending Emily to boarding school at a young age, but she knows that she went there to get the best possible education and treatment, and we know she received that.”

New Leaf continues to support families after they leave treatment. Throughout a child’s stay, the staff works closely with parents and referring professionals to convey the progress being made, ensure a smooth transition home and to allow the professional to pick up where New Leaf left off.

A Sense of Gratitude

By the time students leave New Leaf Academy, they are not angry, resentful or distant as a result of going away to boarding school. In fact, they usually express tremendous gratitude toward their parents and the school.

“We hear over and over again from students that being placed at New Leaf showed them how much their parents love them and how much they are willing to sacrifice to make things better,” said O’Kelley. “Going away to boarding school reinforces the parent-child connection rather than severing it.”

As for the Smiths, “Emily loved her time at New Leaf and would be thrilled to go back,” Shannon said. “She speaks highly of all the staff and students there, and gained a new set of academic and social skills that are serving her well.”

By Meghan Vivo.  *Names changed to protect the family’s privacy


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