Our Therapeutic Approach
John Dewey Academy is often a family’s last resort after traditional therapy methods have been exhausted and have failed to provide the support needed. Our students come to us with stories of being ill-prepared, overwhelmed, misunderstood, and inappropriately indulged by their environments at home or school. Our students are working to overcome past personal problems. Developmentally, all adolescents are working to establish stable personal identities while learning how to relate to others in a positive way. Our school guides adolescents back to a healthy developmental trajectory without dependence on psychotropic medications or psychiatric diagnoses. We do this by combining a strong positive peer culture, high expectations, intensive therapeutic approaches, rigorous academics, and significant family involvement.
The Caring Community
An oft-quoted motto at The John Dewey Academy is “You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone.” In order to realize their potential and grow into mature adults, students need a caring community of peers and adults. We operate on the belief that the most effective agent of change for an adolescent comes from one’s peer group. Positive peer pressure is, therefore, a key element of the John Dewey experience. We encourage students to take ownership of their lives by making responsible choices. In large groups as well as intimate conversations, students support, encourage, and critique each other’s progress with honesty and caring concern. When students demonstrate to their peers and to the faculty that they have become responsible members of the community, they earn status and privileges.
Moral Leadership Development
We give space for students to be the true leaders in the community, with community problem-solving and decision-making being placed largely in the hands of trusted students rather than those of staff. This comes from a place of great respect for those students who have earned that degree of trust; and we believe the community is healthier when students feel they have ownership of the process. It also requires a lot of students: “To whom much is given, much is required.” Outside of structured groups, peers are expected to model healthy behavior in classes, “on the floor” (in normal, casual interactions), during team projects, and recreational activities. Peers are the primary vehicle of rule enforcement, with community leaders bearing the largest responsibility for the smooth and effective running of the community.
Individual and Group Therapy
Our primary goal is to nurture the psychological, moral, and spiritual growth of adolescents. Students support one another in this process, but they also receive support from their primary clinician. Our primary clinicians are psychologists and clinical social workers with specific training and experience in working with adolescents.
When a student arrives at John Dewey, they are matched with a primary clinician (often of their choosing) who works closely with the student, the family, educational consultant, teachers, and any other professionals involved in the student’s life. Each primary clinician carries a caseload of students (averaging 5-7), and provides weekly individual, group, and family therapy. The primary clinician interfaces with every staff member at JDA to gather day-to-day data to inform treatment approaches.
Each family brings its own unique history and dynamics to the John Dewey experience. Parents can disagree about the best approach to take with their teenager; as the trouble escalates, so can bitterness between the parents, no matter how strong their marriage might be. In addition, other children in the family absorb the negative atmosphere and often feel neglected as parental attention is focused on a desperate search for an effective intervention. Research shows that adolescents have better long-term outcomes when families engage in the therapeutic process in meaningful ways. We believe parents and other family members are a critical part of this process.