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Schools & Program Visits - Jun, 1995 Issue #34 

Chris Fudge, Admissions Director
Escalante, Utah
Lon's Visit April 29, 1995 

Turn-About Ranch is what might be termed a home-grown program, or an original. To put that in context, most emotional growth schools and programs have evolved from other already well established programs. That is, a person or group of people gains experience as staff members in a school or program, and then leaves to establish their own program, building on what they have learned and making changes they see are appropriate. One result for a referring professional is if you know the prior work experience of key people in a school or program, you will know the formative influences on their thinking and thus know a lot about the new program. 

This is an important aspect of the development of professionals in our modern society. A person first learns the state of the art in their chosen profession or business, and then goes out to make their mark. This has obvious advantages in that a person can learn from the mistakes and experiences of others. But, one disadvantage is the new program tends to carry along with it most of the assumptions of the old program. Some of those might be out of date. 

David Townsend, the Owner/founder of Turn-About Ranch, was a cattle rancher who wanted to build a program for troubled teens. He had worked with kids before, but he had no significant experience with the already established programs we are familiar with. He has hired well experienced staff who brought their valuable prior experience to Turn-About so he could avoid common mistakes, but David was more free than most to built a new program that made sense from the ground up. In my tour, I saw several examples of familiar tools used in unfamiliar ways, that seemed to be quite effective, perhaps more effective than more traditional techniques. 

Turn-About Ranch was founded in 1989, is a working cattle ranch with an average program length of 88 days. Students can stay for up to six months if needed. It has two properties. The upper property, called roundy, is modeled after the homesteads of the original settlers, which consisted of cold running water from the creek, cooking on a wood stove, etc. Very rustic, but clean and adequate. There are few amenities of civilization. Roundy is for the new students, those on Levels One & Two. Learning the work ethic is very important, along with counseling, group, diary and letter writing and a number of techniques to help the students get in touch with their feelings. 

The lower property, down the creek a mile or so, is for Levels Three & Four students. The structure is not as intense, but along with that comes more responsibility. If a student cannot properly handle the increased responsibility, he/she is transferred back to Roundy to work his/her way back down to the main property. Animals, and especially horses, are an integral part of the students life. Each student is assigned a horse to take care of, and when he/she has shown an adequate level of responsibility, get to take part in cattle round-up and other work from horseback. Each student must maintain a minimum number of points to maintain Level standing. They earn points for every activity including caring for and riding horses, caring for a variety of other animals, ranch work, wilderness activities, counseling, groups, positive peer pressure, writing assignments, and working on personal goals. Owner David Townsend sees the underlying need for all the students is to learn how to form positive relationships. Every part of the program is designed with that goal in mind. 

That this program had some home grown or original aspects to it was made clear while I was talking with a couple of students who were getting ready to graduate. AIthough home was pretty bad, but I felt this place was worse. The girl making this statement was talking about Impact, the first few days at Roundy. This reaction was echoed by all the other students I talked to who agreed Impact was the hardest part of the program, and the part they got the most out of. 

Impact, also referred to as the first of four Levels, lasts about three days on the average. The brand new student must stay within a circle about 15-20 feet in diameter, cannot talk to anyone else without staff permission, must keep the area clean, and complete some basic Impact goals such as write a letter to themselves, write at least one letter to their parents, keep a daily journal, and make a list of ten things they want to change in his/her life. Each student must cook their own food and are given as much as wanted, in the general category of basic and nutritious. 

The level I student is never alone. He/she is always under the watchful eye of staff, and Level Two students doing their jobs in the vicinity of the circle, but under what they call a code of silence. 

The girl who thought it was worse than home said anger, fear, inadequacy, relief and more came up during Impact. By the time she moved up to Level two, she was aware for the first time in years of feelings she had been ignoring and stuffing through a frenzy of frantic and self-destructive activities. 

David Townsend pointed out that 90% of a child's manipulation is verbal. By starting with removing verbal contact with peers, you remove most of their ability to manipulate others. This forces the student to fall back on their internal life, and that is usually a shock, and an excellent first step toward acquiring the goals of self- knowledge and self-discipline. 

Essentially, Impact is using the common solo experience, but in a unique way, with unique results. Most of the Level I and Level Two students looked like they had made remarkable progress in a relatively short period of time. Admissions Director Chris Fudge says about 95% of their graduates return home, and the program is very satisfied with the long-term changes as shown by their on-going analysis. 

The student about ready to graduate also goes through a solo experience, but with another difference from the traditional use of solos. David Townsend found that a lot of energy went into survival activities like keeping warm, keeping a campfire going, etc. that took energy away from a self-assessment. So, they built a solo cabin with a wood stove, and bunk, but rather Spartan other than that. They have found that the experience was more meaningful to the students by allowing them to put more energy into the experience and less into basic survival. 

The students seemed to have a sense of safety that allowed taking emotional risks, and I detected this by my sense of feeling comfortable in the environment. It seemed obvious that good things were happening there. 

In a more general sense, I think Turn-About Ranch is a good example that we should always keep open ways for the educational visionary to enter the field of working with teens with troubles, even though that person doesn't have the standard training and approved experience. It will keep the rest of us on our toes, and make us do a reality check on our assumptions from time to time. 

Copyright 1995, 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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