7 Ways Spring Ridge Is Nothing Like Cruel Instruction
Although the post-movie “Behind the Headlines” documentary included a person who claims to have attended Spring Ridge Academy, the movie was not based on her experience. The students’ experience in the film at Appaloosa Mountain Girls Academy could not be more different than what students experience at Spring Ridge. Here are 7 significant ways we differ.
Cruel Instruction’s Appaloosa Mountain Girls Academy vs. Spring Ridge Academy
Although the post-movie “Behind the Headlines” documentary included a person who claims to have attended Spring Ridge Academy, the movie was not based on her experience. The film Cruel Instruction was based on the experiences of that young person. The movie is based on the experiences of two women who went to a different facility in Utah. The students’ experience in the film at Appaloosa Mountain Girls Academy could not be more different than what students experience at Spring Ridge. Here are 7 major differences.
Difference #1: The presence and intentional use of physical, mental, sexual, or emotional abuse.
At Spring Ridge Academy, all students have the right to be treated with dignity, respect, and consideration, and we believe that should be true in all places where people receive healthcare, education, and/or residential services. No student should experience abuse, neglect, exploitation, coercion, manipulation, sexual abuse, sexual assault, seclusion, restraint, or retaliation at Spring Ridge Academy. If the administration of Spring Ridge Academy knew that a student was being treated in this way, swift and immediate action would be taken to end the mistreatment and report any crime to the local authorities. In addition, any person accused of abuse would be placed on an immediate administrative leave while the alleged abuse is investigated.
Our complaint process is simple but includes an extensive investigation. We use Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a foundation for our school and its programming. Before anyone can dive into the work in therapy, they need to have their physiological and safety, and security needs met. We do this by ensuring our students have enough healthy food available, fresh drinking water, a cozy dorm and welcoming campus, clothing, and the opportunity for a good night’s sleep. We then provide them with stability—they know what to expect and when to expect it. This stability is not achieved by strictness and punishment but by a structured routine. Students have the opportunity to connect with their families immediately. We ensure they are healthy and have the chance to attend school. Finally, we ensure that all our faculty and staff come from a trauma-informed lens that empowers our students with choice, skills, collaborative care, boundaries, privacy, and validation.
Our goal is to heal emotional pain, not create it through any type of abuse or neglect. However, we also know that side effects, risks, and unwanted events are associated with psychotherapy. Researchers have found investigating these side effects, risks, and unwanted events difficult. However, in a 2018 cross-section study, only 5.2% of the 14,587 participants reported lasting adverse effects of therapy.
Therapy, in its nature, deals with emotions and behaviors that can be painful. However, when using evidence-based therapies, the risk of long-term adverse effects is low. One of the benefits of receiving treatment within a program like Spring Ridge is that we employ multiple therapists. This reduces the risk of malpractice due to weekly group supervision and individual supervision conducted by an independently-licensed clinical director.
Additionally, we welcome the oversight of the Arizona Department of Health Services as a licensed facility and are accredited by the Joint Commission. We invite oversight onto our campus because we know the value of having third-party experts come in to oversee our work while keeping us up to date with the latest best practices. Practitioners and programs who are not willing to have these types of oversight are dangerous and may be open to abusive methods. We know that there is a push for federal legislation that standardizes practices for the care of youth in residential treatment. We welcome this discussion and hope to include experts and evidence-based practices in the final product.
Difference #2: Schools recommend students to our program because they fail classes and get in fights.
Schools are not a primary source of referrals at Spring Ridge Academy. When a student is referred by a school system to a program, the student qualifies for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for Emotional Disturbance, and the school system does not have the resources to provide the student with the educational and emotional services that the student requires.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, to meet the qualifications for emotional disturbance, a student must exhibit “one or more of the following characteristics over a long period and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:
(A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
(B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
(C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
(D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
(E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
(ii) Emotional disturbance includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance under paragraph (c)(4)(i) of this section.”
A student who is doing poorly on English tests and fights back when being bullied does not meet the requirements of emotional disturbance. Although a student who attends Spring Ridge may have failed classes and gotten into fights (though a documented history of physical altercations is a disqualifier for admission to Spring Ridge), we also believe in and adhere to the concept of placement in the least restrictive environment. In the case of the movie, the character Kayla would not have qualified for care at Spring Ridge—a less restrictive environment than Appaloosa Mountain Girls Academy—because, with an appropriate intervention to address the bullying and dyslexia, Kayla could have been successful in that environment. We will turn down students who are not appropriate both because they need a higher level of care or do not need as serious intervention as Spring Ridge.
Therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment centers are significant interventions, and we want to see that other interventions are tried first, including outpatient and community services, school services, intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, etc. Jumping straight to a place like Spring Ridge is usual.
Parents must have opportunities to talk to program faculty, staff, and students and, ideally, visit before their student enrolls. They want to make sure the placement fits with the family and can meet the student’s needs. If that is not the case, it’s a red flag.
Difference #3: The program paid the educational consultant for the student placement.
Spring Ridge Academy does not pay educational consultants when they refer a student to us. Educational consultants are experts in finding the correct placement for families based on their needs, including residential and outpatient placements.
Therapeutic consultants generally have backgrounds in education or psychology that they use when assessing a program for a family. Education consultants may also assist with applying to traditional boarding schools and/or colleges. They do not have to offer placements for therapeutic services.
The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) has a set of Principles of Good Practice that states, “Members neither solicit nor accepts compensations from Schools/Programs for placing or attempt to place students with them.”
We would report any educational consultant that asked us for money for placement and would not accept any future referrals from that person.
Difference #4: The facility is locked down, and students rarely go outside.
As mentioned earlier, the fictional Appaloosa Mountain Girls Academy in Cruel Instruction portrays a higher level of care than Spring Ridge, so a direct comparison is impossible. However, for clarity, none of our doors can lock someone on the inside. This means that the doors can either unlock from inside or remain locked when someone goes through.
We implement two security measures that may seem odd but are part of general school safety protocols and have been recommended to us by the local sheriff’s department and are part of standard safety protocols: access control and video security.
First, we have a gate that requires visitors to call our front desk to access the campus. Why? We want to know who is coming and going from our campus. Second, our exterior doors are locked, so you have to have a key or have someone let you in. Why? If someone has access to our campus, we want to ensure that they only have access to areas that do not disrupt the privacy and confidentiality of our students, and we want to keep everyone safe in case there is an intruder.
Our dorms are alarmed in the evening to ensure that we know if someone leaves the building. Is it possible to leave? Yes. But not without waking everyone up.
We also have security cameras in the hallways and public spaces of the dorms. This is to monitor our staff members and ensure the safety and security of our students. The cameras are never in bathrooms or dorm rooms.
We do ask that the bedroom doors stay open as well. But, again, this is to ensure that we can intervene in safety, illness, and injury cases while reducing the potential for physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
We also go off campus a lot. Many of our weekend activities and academic break activities are off-campus in the local communities in Prescott, Sedona, Flagstaff, and the greater Phoenix area. Unless there is a specific safety issue provided by the treatment team, all students, regardless of when they arrived, have the opportunity to get off-campus. Our therapists and Community Life Directors like taking caseloads off for bonding experiences, including ropes courses, dinners, movies, and other recreation activities.
Our school buildings, therapy and administrative building, and cafeteria are separate from the dorms.
We have a huge athletic field, a sports court, and a beautiful courtyard. We can’t use all of the facilities simultaneously, but it would be impossible to do anything besides staying in the dorms without going outside.
Difference #5: Students don’t earn phone privileges for months, and talking to family members is an earned privilege. Someone is always listening on another line.
Students start phone calls immediately with their families—within 24 hours after they arrive. They can always send private letters to their parents. We don’t read what goes out or comes in. Because we don’t read it, there is no way for us to censor it.
Once we know families have rebuilt a foundation for communication, we don’t monitor the phone calls. Staff will be nearby to provide emotional support to students or parents who need it during the phone calls, but we don’t listen to them carefully enough to get a good sense of the conversation or what they are saying about us.
One of the critical elements of Spring Ridge Academy is rebuilding the trust and support within the family. The only reason a phone call would not happen is if the student or parent/guardian chooses not to participate.
Difference #6: Therapy is rare, and group therapy is not run by a therapist.
Therapy is provided by master’s-level clinicians to every student. Students receive a minimum of 90-minutes of individual and/or family therapy per week (except when they are on visits). In addition, we offer 90-minute group therapy twice a week with their caseload groups—up to eight students who they also see for individual and family therapy. Therapists use a variety of therapeutic modalities appropriate for the group setting—art therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal process groups, experiential, etc.
We also have psychoeducational groups run by bachelor-level behavioral health technicians who teach students about various elements of mental and behavioral health. These groups will often offer experiential activities that allow students to learn actively.
Difference #7: Feedback is about blaming and shaming a person.
In the film, a person would be chosen to share an event from their past. Then, the rest of the group would be encouraged to give what they called feedback—“how did you bring this upon yourself?” That is not feedback. It’s victim-shaming.
Feedback at Spring Ridge Academy is an individual’s experience of observation of an event or a person. We could never ask another student or staff member to give feedback on an experience they were not a part of. However, in situations where students share—by their choice—a past event that negatively impacted them, we encourage curiosity and support.
If we need to give feedback, we use the talking format: I feel…when…because…
This is not about shaming the person but providing them with information about how their behavior impacts the people around them. This allows the person receiving the feedback the information they need to make working choices. And this is not always negative! Instead, feedback often takes the form of encouragement. For example, “I feel so grateful when you clean up your side of the room because I can relax and concentrate better in a neat and tidy space.” Eventually, most students and family members don’t need to use the strict talking format to get these elements across.