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The John Dewey Academy for Talented, Troubled, and Troublesome Teens: Nine Guiding Principles, Part II

Article excerpt

This is the second installment that describes nine psychological and psychotherapeutic guiding principles for the John Dewey Academy. This academy is the most effective college preparatory, voluntary, residential, and therapeutic high school in the United States for students who are gifted but engage in self-destructive behavior.

Keywords: compassionate confrontation psychotherapy; gifted adolescents who engage in self-destructive behavior; rejection of psychotropic medication; escalating treatment expectations; empowerment; moral education

There are nine psychological and psychotherapeutic principles that, when combined, make the John Dewey Academy, a college preparatory and therapeutic high school the most effective program of its kind in the United States that provides intensive instruction and treatment for what Bratter (2009) labeled "gifted, alienated, and dually diagnosed . . . students who were self-destructive" (p. 16).

Dewey teens resisted traditional teaching methods and therapeutic interventions. They exist in the existential present and are thus oblivious to future consequences and payoffs. The mission of this academy is to nurture academic, psychological, moral, social, and spiritual growth. Bratter, Bratter, and Radda (1986) delineated social, cognitive, creative, ethical, and academic goals:

* To develop a positive concept of self and a proactive philosophy of life.

* To assume responsibility for one's behavior and to recognize that constructive change is possible.

* To formulate intermediate and long-term goals.

* To be aware of meaningful rewards for productive behavior and tangible consequences for irresponsible acts.

* To learn how to use, rather than continue to abuse, personal potential.

* To understand one's role in society and to contribute constructively to its betterment.

* To love and be loved, to trust and be trusted, to respect and be respected, and to help and be helped.

Some adolescents have a history of incarceration and/or institutionalization. They need to comply with six rules: (a) To remain drug-free from psychoactive substances (including alcohol and nicotine), (b) to avoid threats, intimidation, and/or acts of violence, (c) to be sexually abstinent, (d) to be honest, (e) to respect the rights of others, and (f) to contribute to the common good of the community. Applicants need to agree to abide by remarkably few rules. Admission to the academy is based on a mandatory on-campus interview conducted by the clinical staff and random students. At its termination, the applicant needs to confirm that he or she wishes to remain because the John Dewey Academy is voluntary. One of the purposes of the day-long interview is to provide the student with an abundance of data, so the family can make an informed decision. Repeatedly, the candidate is counseled that if attending a competitive college is not a goal worth pursuing, then selecting the John Dewey Academy would be a mistake. The applicant can leave when deciding not to stay. (Several terminated the interview.) This interview ignores academic performance and standardized testing. After confirming a commitment to become a contributing member of the community, provisional admission is offered to the prospective student. After a probationary period, which lasts more than a month, the prospect will request a vote by peers to determine if membership in the community will be granted. A majority determines outcome.

PSYCHO-EDUCATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS OF DEWEY STUDENTS

Elsewhere, Bratter (2002, pp. 297-298), Bratter, Bratter, Coiner, and Steiner (2006, pp. 8-10), Bratter, Sinsheimer, Kaufman, and Alter (2007, pp. 71-73), and Bratter (2009, pp. 17-18) have described the psycho-educational-social characteristics of Dewey students who engage in dangerous and self-defeating behaviors. The John Dewey Academy provides a safe, structured, and supportive residential treatment milieu designed to help angry and alienated youth contain and curtail self-destructive behaviors. …