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News & Views - Apr, 1998 Issue #51

Tranquility Bay 

Madeline Nasta, Associate Director 
The DeSisto School 

As Associate Director of The DeSisto School in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, I’m writing in response to Adam Cohen’s article on Tranquility Bay (“Is This A Camp Or Jail?”) and lamenting the author’s lack of balanced reporting and failure to present both sides of the story. We are a year- round private therapeutic boarding school that deals with “at- risk” adolescents, and, although our school differs significantly from “for-profit attitude adjustment camps,” there are some similarities. One of our goals also is behavior modification. Most of our students are enrolled here, initially, “against their will.” But the fact that the child does not want to be here does not necessarily mean that s/he shouldn’t be. If children knew what’s best for them and always acted in their own best interests, there wouldn’t be a need for schools like ours. 

I’m certainly not defending abuse at Tranquility Bay or any other institution, but there is a huge difference between “tough attitude rehab” and abuse. The events surrounding David van Blarigan’s removal from his home may sound extreme and perhaps they were, but without any background information on what he and his family have been through, what their specific problems are, and how they’ve tried to deal with issues in the past, we can’t know. Some insight into what drove David’s parents to act as they did would be helpful. What is this family’s history? How many other programs have they tried? Why did those fail? What forms did David’s acting out take? How many promises did he make and break over the years? Does the Van Blarigan’s solution constitute a heartless act, or might it, in fact, have been the ultimate act of love? Might it be their final desperate attempt to find help for a troubled child for whom nothing else has worked? 

There was no mention in this article about parent involvement in the treatment of the child. At The DeSisto School, it would not be possible under any circumstances for parents to arrange enrollment for their child and then not actively participate in the program themselves. Parental involvement is both essential and required and allows parents to work and grow in a positive peer group atmosphere, to learn how the School works experientially, and to become familiar with the philosophy which informs our approach. Parents are required to attend monthly meetings in their local area and to take part in campus activities during the year. We believe that the best way to help the child is to involve the family in a mutual quest for self-understanding, growth, and emotional well-being. 

The dangerous result of the careless reporting in this article is that all schools that specialize in behavior modification and teaching personal responsibility get painted with the same brush. If abuses are occurring at some of these places, that is inexcusable and should be investigated and stopped. But there are many reputable places having great success in helping young people turn their lives around and, by caring for them and teaching them to care for and value themselves, doing a great service to these students and their families. 

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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