Turning lives around

Our Philosophy

The John Dewey Academy is a residential, college preparatory, year-round high school designed for high-potential students who have not been succeeding in school and life. Despite intelligence and talent, our students have lost sight of their genuine goals and passions. The school’s educational program provides what these students need in order to turn their lives around: a structured environment, a caring community, and a positive peer culture. Together, these elements can help students learn to face their problems and make life-affirming choices.

Empowering bright teens

Our Mission

The continued mission of The John Dewey Academy is to empower bright but underachieving adolescents to overcome social, emotional, and academic challenges in order to attend quality colleges and lead healthy, productive, and successful lives.

What sets us apart

The Dewey Difference

What is it that makes The John Dewey Academy work?

Small, Caring Community: We have always capped our admissions at approximately 30 students because we are intentional about creating an intimate environment in which every student can feel truly seen and known. We are also highly selective about what student is right for us. Whether it’s in the peer group or the classroom setting, our small size sets us apart and provides us the opportunity to know our students and families deeply.

Learn about our peer-based approach.

Student Leadership and Empowerment: Our students are given a tremendous amount of responsibility, with opportunities to try new things, develop important leadership skills, and feel a sense of pride for a job well done. As much as possible, we give space for trusted student leaders to “run the school” including: planning, ordering, and preparing nutritious meals for the entire school; maintaining the vast grounds; cleaning and maintaining their “home”; supervising study halls; working with faculty to serve as student advisors and tutors; coordinating and implementing student life activities; tending to the community garden; coordinating community service projects; and serving in the business or IT department.

Learn more about our Student Life and Leadership programs

Outstanding Academic Program: Our students require a degree of academic challenge and support that is qualitatively different from many other therapeutic programs. Because most of our students have been (or could be) identified as “gifted” or “twice-exceptional,” we know that our faculty must provide a differentiated curriculum that meets individual student needs for acceleration, remediation, and unique interests, as appropriate. Because of our accomplished and inspiring faculty, along with a low student-to-teacher ratio, we are able to provide unique learning opportunities that are often a mix of college-level learning with remedial support services.

Read more about our academics.

100% Quality College Acceptance: We have always aimed to prepare our students to succeed at colleges that are commensurate with students’ capabilities and interests. Since 1985, our graduates have had a 100% acceptance rate to colleges on par with most traditional college preparatory schools. We continue to work hard to prepare our students, build relationships with colleges, and continue JDA’s impressive reputation for college placement.

See list of college acceptances

An Alternative to the Psychiatric Paradigm: Perhaps one of the most unique features of our approach is that we do not rely on psychotropic medications to help adolescents mature, as we do not inherently believe that there is a pill that will cure immaturity, heal trauma, or resolve the pain of disconnection. While we recognize that there may be times and situations in which the use of psychotropic medication may be useful, we have 30+ years of experience of effectively supporting long-term youth development without resorting to medications that have serious negative side effects.

Learn more about our medication policy and rationale.

Get In Touch

Contact Us



THE JOHN DEWEY ACADEMY

389 Main Street
Great Barrington MA 01230

Admissions: (413) 528-0084
Phone: (413) 528-9800
Fax: (413) 528-5662

Our Philosophy

The John Dewey Academy is a residential, college preparatory, year-round high school designed for high-potential students who have not been succeeding in school and life. Despite intelligence and talent, our students have lost sight of their genuine goals and passions. We view our students not as sick, disordered or damaged but as sensitive adolescents who veered off course somewhere in their development – sometimes as the result of painful trauma, family stress, vulnerability to a dysfunctional peer group or a series of poor choices.    All of our students have engaged in some form of avoidance behavior and maladaptive coping. As a way of escaping livesexperienced as alienating and painful, they have engaged in self-defeating or self-destructive behaviors (e.g., drug use, sexual promiscuity, school avoidance, social withdrawal, dishonesty, reckless behavior, excessive gaming, or forms of bodily self-harm such as cutting or eating disorders). Whether they act out in angry defiance or are withdrawing into depression and anxiety, all have lost the conviction that life, reality, and hard work are worthwhile investments.  The school’s educational program provides what these students need in order to turn their lives around: a structured environment, a caring community, and a positive peer culture. Together, these elements can help students learn to face their problems and make life-affirming choices.

Our program is founded upon some guiding principles:

We believe in the power of choice.

We are a voluntary program. Throughout the admissions process, prospective students and families are given a realistic picture of the philosophy, demands, and expectations of the school. To gain acceptance during the interview, students agree to abide by the school’s expectations and articulate their personal reasons for wanting to attend JDA. Once students are accepted, we encourage them to interview clinical staff to choose who they would prefer to work with as their primary clinician. Their preferences for what student team they would like to serve on is also highly valued in our decision-making. Our goal is to give students the freedom to make their own choices, within reason, and to also learn from the natural consequences of those choices.

 We believe in the power of a positive peer culture.

We provide a therapeutic milieu that students need in order to turn their lives around: a structured environment, a caring community, and a positive peer culture. Together, these elements can help students learn to face their problems and make life-affirming choices. We go to great lengths to ensure our students understand what it means to be a caring member of the community. We believe the positive peer culture is truly the “therapy” that helps students change–more so than traditional individual therapy (though, of course, we believe there is a place for that!). Alumni often say that it was the culture and relationships with their peers that made the biggest difference in how they felt about themselves, what they believed about themselves, and how they conducted themselves in the world.  

We believe that our students can rise to challenge.

At The John Dewey Academy, adolescents encounter a peer-based community of empowerment, an exciting educational environment, the challenge of real responsibilities, and the realistic promise of acceptance at a college of quality. In such an environment, they can change. Even those who have resisted previous interventions can learn to invest in themselves when they are treated as capable of making mature decisions, and are held accountable for their choices by their peers as well as by the staff. If students are willing to work toward a better life, we will work alongside them as educators, coaches, and mentors. We never lose sight of our students’ high potential for lives of self-respect and success.

We believe in supporting students’ healthy striving for wholeness.

We show respect to our students by believing in their potential and meeting them with high expectations. We do not view them as patients to be cured or as “damaged goods” who are destined to their diagnoses. We know that they are capable young people with bright futures ahead of them. Their histories do not have to determine their futures. We are exceedingly optimistic because we have seen and experienced true, radical transformation amongst our students for over 30 years. Adolescents who were previously seen through the lens of deterministic psychiatric diagnoses are given the opportunity at JDA to become more than they (or their parents) may have ever hoped or imagined.

We believe that real change takes time and hard work.

We do not believe in quick fixes. We know that in most cases, our students’ issues are complex and have developed over several years, if not their lifetime. Our program is specifically designed to precipitate “second order change,” as we call it. In other words, we aim for real, lasting transformation rather than mere symptom reduction. Instead of medicating adolescents’ feelings, we address the underlying emotions–alienation, insecurity, fear, loneliness, hurt and anger–that have trapped them in a downward spiral. We rekindle their hope for meaningful relationships and lives of self-respect. In a caring and intensely challenging environment, our students begin believing in themselves; they begin to care about their futures, and to exercise their freedom with better choices. We know this approach takes time, and we are patient with the process. We are also intentional about helping our adolescents mature without the use of psychotropic medications. We know that this is a very different approach than today’s mainstream American culture, but we have over 30 years of experience and research-based rationale for sticking with our non-medical model approach. (Click here to understand more about our medication policy.)

We believe in the power of family and community.

Finally, we believe that families and a strong sense of community facilitate health and wholeness amongst our students. In our ever-increasingly disconnected culture, we desire to prioritize building strong relationships and deep connections at our school. To that end, we have high expectations of our families to participate and invest in their child’s journey at JDA. Parents and siblings are invited to campus every 6-8 weeks to connect with their Dewey student, learn healthy ways of communicating and facilitating healthy development with their teen, and work on repairing and renewing family relationships. In addition, new parents join a supportive network of other Dewey parents and are strongly encouraged to engage in a parallel process of making deep, authentic connections within the parent community. In our experience, we find that the strength of the student community often mirrors that of the parent community.