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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What Were You Thinking?

Most parents of a teenager have asked the question at one time or another, "What were you thinking?"  In a recent study conducted by psychological scientists Laurence Steinberg & Jason Chein of Temple University and Dustin Albert of Duke University, they argue the significant influence peers have over their adolescent friends risky behaviors.  This study shows an increase in risky behaviors by these teenagers when directly observed by their peers. They report greater activation of brain structures, such as the ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex, which are involved in evaluating rewards.

If we are to accept the relationship between peer influence and risky behaviors, we must also consider the influence these teens hold over each other based upon the amount of time these teens spend with each other.  By spending large amounts of time with their peers, these scientists claim the feedback may overtime tune the brain's reward system to be more sensitive to the reward value of risky behavior.  They go on to say, "This sensitivity leads teens to focus on the short-term benefits of risky choices over the long-term value of safe alternatives."

Knowing that teenagers will spend a great deal of time with each other, it becomes important to shape that reward system into something positive rather than seeking acceptance through risky behaviors. At Cedar Ridge Academy, we are huge advocates of utilizing the powerful influence of peers in helping our students to achieve a healthier lifestyle.  Our students participate in seven hours of group therapy each week in conjunction to their individual and family therapy sessions.  Group therapy includes specialized small groups to target specific issues appropriate for our current student body.

In a positive milieu environment, such as ours, students are encouraged, supported, and accountable to each other. We use a strong message of..."you have what it takes to be successful, you matter, and we care about you." This environment is ideal for creating a safe, structured, positive peer community where the students feel connected and accepted.  We teach our students about empathy to help them focus on building that positive peer culture while challenging the negative sub-culture that is prevalent in today's society. Utilizing these different tools enable Cedar Ridge students to dismiss typical peer stimuli and apply healthier internal motivators to determine their choice.  By focusing in on long-term benefits derived from choices, our graduates are training their brain's reward system to respond more sensitively to mature, healthy stimuli.

Association for Psychological Science April 2013

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

New Special Education Teacher

Denise working with student
Cedar Ridge Academy has found a great fit with the addition of Denise Mooney to our academic team.  Denise adds a number of wonderful credentials to our school beyond her endorsements in both English and History; she also completed her Master’s degree in Special Education at the University of Alaska.  With over thirteen years’ experience under her belt, Denise offers experience working with a wide range of students with varying degrees of learning disabilities. She utilizes her expertise in this field to design Individual Educational Plans (IEP) and 504 plans to aid teachers, staff, and parents working together for a rich learning environment. 

Denise Mooney
Denise is very excited to live on our beautiful campus where she can easily indulge in some of her hobbies which include reading, playing on the computer, and exploration in nature.  Being an avid animal lover; she also enjoys living on an animal friendly campus where students are encouraged to help care for others. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Improving Student Comprehension & Productivity

The quieter you become, the more you can hear.  ~Zen Proverb

Over the past twenty years I have observed an interesting phenomenon in many students who have attended my therapeutic boarding school--a sudden and somewhat dramatic shift in both comprehension and productivity. This shift usually occurs just prior to the student attaining level 800.  Instead of staff and therapist symbolically “pushing”the student along, the student starts leading the way.  Instead of struggling with subjects in school, the student’s productivity jumps ahead, not only to the surprise of teachers and therapists, but to the surprise of the students themselves.  
Level 800 Students
Learning disabilities that these students have struggled with often become more manageable or seem to disappear.

Two additional important developmental tasks happen around the time of reaching level 800:  1) The student has meaningful goals for themselves; and 2) They are finding it much easier to distance themselves from past loyalties or problematic peer relationships.  Typically, students coming into Cedar Ridge lack meaningful future plans and are unwilling to separate themselves from the past friendships that supported their problematic behaviors.  This shift to making future plans and distancing themselves from unhealthy peer relationships are two critical milestones seen by students working for future success.

These students clearly demonstrate a marked reduction in anxiety along with a distinct positive shift in emotional maturity and confidence.  This reduction of anxiety seems to be the biggest factor in the accelerated productivity that I have witnessed.  In a DVD series called, Social Anxiety: The Untold Story, Jonathan Berent talks about how anxiety contributes to learning problems.  He mentions that problems diminish as anxiety is managed and an improvement in learning tasks ensues. 

Often what gets construed as learning deficits or attention issues are actually habits of detachment from uncomfortable stimuli.  This detachment is almost always automatic and unconscious to those who do it.  It is important to understand that detachment is a form of avoidance, which is dissociative in nature. Reflexively, detachment serves to provide relief from the source of discomfort.  Unbeknownst to many, this strategy of avoidance only serves to reinforce the discomfort that triggered the detachment in the first place.

When anxiety  is reduced, the mind becomes calmer (quieter).  When the mind is quieter, creative processes re-engage.  The constant regressions to past feelings subside and the normal process of maturation resumes.  The mind will tune into the rhythms of life in a more natural, developmental way both automatically and unconsciously.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Supporting the Level System

"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage." Lao Tzu
The biggest single factor responsible for success at Cedar Ridge is a consistently clear message from the parents that their son or daughter (the student) must accomplish the goal of working through the issues that brought them here. Usually not what the student wants to hear from the parents, the message is based on the love that parents have for their student. This form of love is called "tough love" and, yes, it does require courage.teens talking their way home cedar ridge academy private international therapeutic boarding school
The best objective way to measure the student's attitude and acceptance is how they engage in the process of change. The "Trust Levels" provide an excellent gauge for measuring this determination. The student's willingness to comply with rules and expectations is crucial for developing rapport with the student. Willing compliance does wonders for building the all-important therapeutic relationships that empower the healing process. Compliance develops a response pattern and acceptance of adult leadership in students who have become defiant, evidenced by their need to come to Cedar Ridge in the first place.
When we feel we are starting to have reasonable compliance, we say the student is "getting on board." That is when the student can achieve level 600. When a parent hears that their student has achieved level 600, it indicates that he/she is taking the first steps on the journey of change.
It is at this level that students begin dealing with the underlying issues that they have been seeking relief from by various strategies of pushing away. Yes, this does require courage! New students typically demonstrate old instinct and habitual response patterns through resistance to change. Despite good rationales for making changes, the perceived payoff for the presenting behaviors results in innate resistance.
This is when students start negotiating for concessions from the parents, trying to work a deal. How successful the student has been with these negotiations in the past usually determines how persistent the student will be in attempting to get parents to pull him/her out of the program. Children know their parents' weak spots and will likely try to split their parents from the program by taking advantage of these weaknesses.
The quickest way for a student to move past this stage is by parents consistently and energetically insisting that their child work through the levels and graduate the program. Even when circumstances lead to a shorter stay, the student will have moved the farthest if they believe completion is the only option on the table. Every dollar invested will go farther if the student believes their parents are committed to program graduation. When parents form a united front and communicate a consistent message about program completion, they are helping all the other parents. The fewer anomalies that occur with this message the more engaged the students are as a whole, thus benefiting everyone.
Success in progressing through the levels creates students who are deeply appreciative of the Cedar Ridge experience and deeply appreciative of the parents who held firm during their time here. These are the outcomes that make it all worthwhile for the staff who work here.
Here are some guidelines to follow during the time your child is with us.

1. Never let the student lead you into a conversation that indicates to them an alternate time frame for going home. Students usually probe about getting back into school at some specified date or ask if completing a certain number of school courses can be the criterion for leaving. The student then uses the alternate criteria as means of getting around the therapeutic expectations. The parent Mantra in response to any probing questions is, "You need to work on graduating the program first."

2. Keep stating that all decisions regarding future time lines are between the parents and the therapist, and that you are going to follow the therapist's advice. Although the student's discharge is ultimately the parent's decision, parents and therapist should maintain an ongoing dialogue about what i best for the student and family. We work for you, but putting the responsibility on the therapist takes the pressure off the parents and empowers the therapist.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Starting in the Classroom

Sending a teenager away from home to attend a prestigious boarding school in preparation for their college career requires a great deal of sacrifice from families.   International families often struggle with the same issues in addition to complications that cross-cultural education will encounter.
At Cedar Ridge Academy we understand the complex nature of cultural divide and work at breaking down the walls that separate foreign students from American culture.

We are proud of our uniquely large population of professionals who have lived abroad resulting in a broad range of staff who have bilingual proficiencies.  Our academic team uses their firsthand knowledge when working with our international students in an effort to eliminate any cultural barriers that would otherwise impede educational goals.  One way in which Cedar Ridge Academy prepares our international students for future successes in their American educational experience is by enrolling our students in a course designed for the development of educational and professional skills. 

This course is designed around the objective of preparing students beyond the classroom and to compete in today’s modern world.  The course emphasizes the importance of good communication and identifies
methods for improving that vital skill. Application of these skills will be used in collaborative projects and used in peer group discussions where they can further develop the speaking and listening skills to succeed in college.  By the end of the course students are well versed in crafting professional documents which may be used in the admission process for universities or may be used in career portfolios.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Perfectly Set Apart for International Students

Cedar Ridge Academy sets itself apart from other private schools to international students by offering a flexible but rigorous curriculum designed specifically to enhance academic pursuits whether that comes in the form of accelerated learning or personal life skills which include: increased motivation, confidence, autonomy, physical fitness and hard work. Our learning environment allows the academic team to tailor a specific learning plan to meet the needs of each individual student.

The entire Cedar Ridge experience is dedicated to encouraging and supporting students along their own path to academic mastery and the personal insight required for future success. Our goal is to prepare students to be proactive and successful in their transition from home to college. Some of the ways we approach these goals are the following:

1) Blended Learning and self-paced academics - Students at Cedar Ridge Academy have a blend of academic experiences including: traditional teacher lead instruction, one on one teacher tutoring, and "online" class instruction that can be watched repeatedly and or paused so the student can ask questions, or look up information.

2) Academic Mastery - Students must complete each assignment, quiz, and test with a minimum score of 80% before being allowed to move forward in the curriculum. When a student scores less than 80% they are required to repeat that assignment, quiz, or test.

3) Integrated Therapy - Students at Cedar Ridge Academy have the advantage of onsite professional Therapists to help students explore success beyond the classroom.

4) Diet and Exercise - Cedar Ridge Academy integrates dietitian planned meals and snacks helping to ensure your students nutritional needs are being met. Cedar Ridge Academy students have weekly Shotokan Karate classes and scheduled Physical Education classes during the school day. The students also have a variety of extracurricular sports they can participate in including basketball, golf, volleyball, and fast pitch softball.

Discoveries about how the brain can be stimulated to create new neurons (neurogenesis) indicate that exercise is highly beneficial for such development. In order for this neurogenesis to occur, one or more of three conditions must be present; and here at Cedar Ridge Academy we focus on providing all three requirements daily. The first of these conditions is "exercise," not just a few minutes of exercise, but a sustained level of exercise. The second of these conditions is "novelty." When the brain is presented with novelty for a sustained length of time, new brain cells can be triggered to form. Lastly, the condition of "enrichment" can stimulate neurogenesis.