Angela's Online Discussion Group

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Angela's Online Discussion Group
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Why are there are so many quality programs in Utah?

By: Larry Stednitz
This question comes up in conversations with many
of my families. Utah seems to be the Silicon Valley of
the Parent Choice schools and programs, which is
likely to continue into the foreseeable future. There
are easy answers to the question and other
explanations that are more subtle. Forty-five Utah
programs are listed and described in the Woodbury
Reports‘ Parent Empowerment Handbook. No other
state comes close to that number of programs. This
fact is even more remarkable given that the
programs in this handbook are documented as being
quality programs by independent educational
consultants across the country who work in this
The first reason for the large number of programs in
Utah begins with Provo Canyon School. Provo was
founded in 1971 with its humble beginnings as a
group home. Provo grew into one of the largest and
best-known residential treatment programs in the
country. Known for working with difficult teenagers,
the refrain from parents and professionals across the
country was “If you don’t shape up, you are going to
Provo Canyon!” Over the years, Provo Canyon has
trained and influenced hundreds, if not thousands, of
childcare staff, medical staff, teachers, clinicians and
other support staff. Many moved on to begin their
own versions of Provo. In doing so, they took
knowledge and experience from Provo, adding their
own bells and whistles to create their own programs.
One example will illustrate this: Jerry Spanos, CEO
of the Heritage Center, worked at Provo, eventually
leaving because he had the belief that the most
important treatment entity was directly related to
the quality of relationships with clients. He felt this
approach would be a great improvement to the strict
methods of control practiced at Provo in the 1980’s.
Jerry started Heritage Center in 1984. Today the two
programs treat over 500 young people every day.
Heritage is but one of many programs that “grew” out
of Provo over the years.
The second major impact was the development of
wilderness programs. Doug Nelson, Larry Olsen and
Ezekiel Sanchez were early pioneers of wilderness
programming. All three men were involved with
Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. There they
developed wilderness programming for BYU students
who were not achieving at levels of which they were
capable. This program had great success, and out of
this experience, Doug Nelson developed what is now
called Aspen Achievement Academy (AAA). Over the
years, AAA also trained and influenced many
therapists, medical staff, logistics personnel, field
instructors and others who had learned how to
operate a wilderness program. It is very difficult to
find a wilderness program in the State of Utah that
has not been influenced by these three men and,
specifically, Aspen Achievement Academy. From
these modest beginnings, wilderness programs in
Utah have developed more than 10 fold since 1989
when AAA was founded.
The culture of Utah is also unique and lends itself to
the development of programs that are intended to
help others. Utah citizens as a whole place value
upon the family and community, perhaps more than
any state in the Union. This sets the stage for
supporting parents in getting help for their children
and developing laws and regulations that effectively
manage the huge number of programs in Utah.
Another major cultural characteristic of Utah is all
said on their license plates: “UTAH! The Beehive
State.” Its citizens have a deeply ingrained practice of
doing things well, whether it be a smoothly run
Olympics, an efficiently operated airport, a downtown
that is clean and easy to navigate or their
numerous and respected universities and colleges,
which also fuel programs with talent. Utah values
achievement and entrepreneurial initiatives as well
as hard work. It is no wonder that Utah leads the
country in the development of programs for troubled
children and families. From where I sit, the citizens
of Utah and their culture have set the stage for their
success in our industry.

Re: Why are there are so many quality programs in Utah?

No, it's really because Utah's stature of limitations is 4 years. Which means, if you're in a program until you're 18, you need to get up the money to pay for the legal fees, and the knowledge and time to pursue such a course, but by the time you turn 22, which means you need to pursue litigation for the abuse which the facility puts you through during your college years. Good luck with that! It's a good state for programs because it's conservative, difficult to run away from. and many of the programs are protected by state officials. You lose, Larry.