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John Dewey Academy

Therapeutic Boarding School & College Prep

John Dewey Academy Program Information

Gender: Coeducational
Ages: 16 to 21
Grades: 10 to postgraduate
Estimated Enrollment: 35
Length of Stay:
Program was founded in: 1985
Accreditations: Affiliations:

John Dewey Academy Contact Information

389 Main Street
Great Barrington, MA 01230
Phone: (413) 528-9800
Fax: (413) 528-5662
School Contact: Lisa Sinsheimer
Alternative Contact: Tom Bratter and Ken Steiner
Therapy Provided?: Yes

Program Description:

The John Dewey Academy is a residential school for bright, acting out, and angry adolescents. JDA admits self-destructive students who have failed to respond to traditional educational and treatment approaches. JDA eschews the use of psychotropic medication and psychiatric labels by providing a structured environment to help students (re)gain control of their lives.

Our mission is to provide intensive, individualized instruction and therapy to alienated, angry, self-destructive, but bright adolescents. This approach inspires students to use, rather than to continue to abuse, their talents.

This vision is admittedly an ambitious one: we aim to restore hope, to rebuild families, and to transform students' lives.

Founded in 1985 by Dr. Thomas E. Bratter, The John Dewey Academy is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Our most recent re-accreditation took place in 2003.

The John Dewey Academy is a residential, college preparatory, therapeutic, year-round high school. JDA is voluntary: in order to enroll and to remain at JDA, students must make a commitment to change their lives.

JDA is unique in its strong emphasis on academic excellence in the midst of an intense (and intensely ambitious) therapeutic program. We do not believe in warehousing dysfunctional adolescents; rather, we wish to provide the setting and caring community (positive peer culture) which facilitate change.

An important element of this demanding and ambitious program is the rejection of the use of psychotropic medications. In our society, dysfunctional adolescents are often inappropriately medicated in a misguided attempt to help them. The vast majority of students arrive at the John Dewey Academy either on psychotropics or with a history of psychotropic use; we discontinue such medications in consultation with a psychiatrist (to prevent the side effects which may result from abrupt discontinuation). We find that students do much better OFF these medications. Instead of trying to medicate a student's feelings of shame, despair, and anxiety, we address the underlying causes of these emotions.

Parents are often reluctant to discontinue medications because they fear their child's condition will worsen, and because medical professionals often insist on continuing the drugs. One valuable way to approach this issue is to consider the following: on medication, has your child moved in a good direction? If not, a fresh approach is in order.

At JDA, we know there is no quick fix, although we recognize how tempting such a belief is to desperate parents.
All applicants have a mandatory on-campus interview conducted by clinical staff and students. The candidate has the option to include or exclude family members (who are present as observers only).

We take a history from parents before scheduling the student interview. We are happy to review psychological reports, standardized testing, and prior academic performance as well; but we focus much more on our assessment of the student than on any written report. Most John Dewey students have underperformed academically for months or years prior to their arrival; thus, standardized testing and academic reports are not necessarily a true guide of student potential.

The interview is the crucial diagnostic assessment. Current attitude, rather than past performance, determines admission. Some specific objectives of the intake interview are to:

1. Ascertain whether the applicant recognizes his/her maladaptive behavior and can make an initial commitment to change.

2. Determine if the candidate accepts responsibility for dysfunctional behavior and anti-social attitudes.

3. Elicit a perfunctory commitment to cooperate by abiding by our Cardinal Rules: abstinence from drugs, tobacco, and alcohol; sexual abstinence; abstinence from violence; honesty in all areas.

4. Assess the student's social maturity and ability to live cooperatively in a caring community.

5. Elicit an agreement to remain at JDA.

This interview determines if the applicant remains for a trial period before deciding whether (s)he wishes to stay. During the next few weeks, the applicant goes to class, attends groups, and interacts with students and staff. This extended evaluation period protects the integrity of the school and the community by enabling both student and JDA community members to make a more accurate assessment of the "fit."

After a variable time period that may last from weeks to a few months, the student "calls the vote." The community votes before the applicant is admitted, with a majority vote determining outcome. The prospective student speaks with peers at length prior to the vote, so the actual vote is less ambiguous and stressful than it may appear.

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