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Schools & Program Visits - Jan, 2000 Issue #65 

Positive Impact’s 
Bahia de Kino 

John Andersen, Founder 
Kino, Mexico 
[Visit Report by Lon Woodbury on Oct. 29, 1999] 

“I met myself” was how one student summarized his experience at Positive Impact. His story about his life before he enrolled shared themes all too common in emotional growth schools and programs: acting out, rebellion, drugs. The young man I saw standing before me now, had started to accept responsibility for the negative events that had happened to him and he was working intensely to change his thinking. He was proud of the changes he had made while there, and also had pride in the program, which stemmed from an awareness of his role in helping to “carve a new school out of the wilderness” so to speak.

Positive Impact is one of the growing number (and sometimes controversial) programs that have been established outside the United States in the last few years to serve students from the United States who have behavioral/emotional problems. About one year old, Positive Impact is still developing their therapeutic milieu to take advantage of the unique foreign culture, the natural environment and the skilled staff Andersen has hired. It has progressed well in pulling all this together as the sense of safety in the program was good.

Andersen has hired several staff from Island View, a highly respected Residential Treatment Center in Utah, where he had previously been a therapist. His staff has the good clinical capability to provide solid clinical services. For example, they feel they can do very well with those bi-polar students who have no psychotic episodes.

At the same time, Positive Impact has the tremendous potential to offer non-clinical growth experiences for the students, due to its location on the mainland shores of the Sea of Cortez, about sixty miles west of Hermosillo. Teeming with wildlife and relatively untouched by civilization, it has a culture considerably different from that of the United States.

It was my impression that Andersen and the staff originally anticipated developing a unique residential treatment center that emphasized therapeutic services. But as they settle into the location, they have found the potential for using the natural and Mexican environments so powerful it seems they are beginning to work more with behavioral problems, using their clinical expertise to supplement their main experiential thrust. If they choose to continue in this direction, then the student profile they seek in their admissions process could allow for less serious diagnoses than perhaps originally anticipated. Currently, each boy enrolled in the program participates in regular individual, and group therapy. They also have family therapy by telephone twice a month, with intensive face-to-face family therapy sessions every 60-90 days. They work with boys, ages 12 to 18, who typically have a misdirected spirit of adventure, often diagnosed with Conduct or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. To put it in laymen’s terms, they work with the “feisty” ones.

Being situated on the beach, the ocean is always part of the program, providing much of their physical recreation in the form of volleyball and jogging on the beach, swimming in the ocean, boating, clam diving, deep-sea fishing, camping, soccer, tennis or softball.

The recreational highlight is the trip to Pelican Island. Visible from the front porch and only one mile from the program site, this island gets its name from the thousands of pelicans who have for generations nested there throughout the year. Watching them fish was a real treat for this visitor from the inland Northwest where a pelican is an odd bird rarely seen except in pictures or zoos. The island, consisting mostly of steep cliffs, provides a resting spot for numerous seals, lazing in the water, who provide a real- life demonstration of being “laid-back.” Some of the huge ones we motored past were larger than any I’ve ever seen even in National Geographic pictures.

Frequently the student expeditions stop overnight or longer to campout on a sandy peninsula. There, the students do emotional growth work such as ceremonially burying their old habits of thought. They intersperse such activities with diving for seashells or finding them littering the beach — I have a beautiful conch at home that I picked up from that beach. The rugged terrain, the struggling vegetation, bare shale rock, and signs of indigenous visitors from many previous years gives an air of power and mystery that only enhances the growth work the students do there.

The island towers about 700 feet above the ocean. On an impulse we decided to hike about 5-600 feet up to the saddle between the twin peaks. As there was no trail, we had to scamper across the loose shale on the face of the mountain. I really missed my hiking boots, which were back home, but, the view from the top was well worth the effort. After being told that I was the first educational consultant to make the climb, I’ve decided to issue a challenge to every educational consultant or professional who visits Positive Impact in the future: I challenge you to climb that mountain too!

Community service is another important part of the program. Although community service is common to many emotional growth schools and programs, providing community service to a part of the Mexican society takes the concept much further, giving students an intense exposure to a different culture. The town of Kino, with about 5,000 people, is a self-sufficient community where family, service and commitment are central. “Even the poorest families show generosity of spirit and caring. Crime is non-existent because it is not tolerated.” Exposure to these values can only be healthy to these boys with a history of self-centered lives. Initially the boys are exposed to a positive peer culture where they learn by serving each other. As the concept of serving becomes ingrained, it expands to include serving the surrounding community.

Each boy’s academics are evaluated upon enrollment in order to design his individualized academic plan. Students proceed at their own speed, working through courses offered by the Keystone National High School, which is fully accredited in the United States. All the boys are enrolled in Spanish classes and are expected to speak Spanish fluently by the time they complete the program.

Those concerned about Positive Impact’s motives in locating outside the country should be aware that the motivation was not to avoid restrictive regulations back in the states, but to establish a program where land costs were lower and where a rich experience could be provided through interaction with a foreign culture. The program conforms to the same practices and standards found in the United States, and I am very comfortable referring clients to this program.

Copyright © 2000, 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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