The High Frontier
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The High Frontier is a totally unique program that best exemplifies the Positive Peer Culture model described in the book Positive Peer Culture by Larry K. Brendtro and Harry H. Vorrath. This School provides the resources we would all expect in a therapeutic school with the added benefit of the students effectively policing each other and holding each other accountable for addressing their issues.
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The obvious benefit for having peer intervention is that teens tend to be best influenced by their peers. But just as important is the different kind of relationship this creates between staff and students. It is extremely rare for a staff member to need to confront an individual student one on one. This completely changes the adult/ student dynamic from what many of the students have been used to.
At The High Frontier, students are divided into groups of less than a dozen students to a group. The primary change process takes place in the group. An experienced staff person, the group leader, is in charge of the group. As much as possible the staff members avoid dealing directly with any student in a negative context. Their primary interaction is with the group as a whole. They intervene with the group to hold it accountable for doing its job and to coach it in how to do its job. The job of the group is to hold each other accountable for attention to their therapeutic issues and for appropriate behavior.
Several additional unusual features:
• The history of The High Frontier might suggest that strengths and weaknesses of this program are largely the strengths and weaknesses of the executive director, Barry Blevins. Barry disagrees. In any case, we see many more strengths than weaknesses. The organization behind The High Frontier attempted to open two additional facilities, with Barry supervising all three but full time at none. The two additional facilities did not work out and High Frontier, in the opinion of some, was not at its best during that time. One might conclude that the success and excellence of The High Frontier revolves around Barry's full time participation. That might be a concern when we stop to think that no one person is a permanent fixture. We had an interesting discussion with Barry on this topic in response to our initial draft of this review, where we had asserted that we did not think the program could do well without him. Barry initially thought that was totally wrong. By the time we were done with the conversation, Barry seemed to see that the program was more dependent on him individually than he was at first able to acknowledge. Our position also shifted more toward his during the same discussion.
• This is an unusually stable staff. Large numbers of key staff have been with the program for decades. This includes direct care staff who are career people.
• Education is handled by the local public school district and diplomas name the local public high school. Teachers on campus are cross trained and function consistently with expectations of the program.
• High Frontier therapists are "outside" the milieu of the program. In most therapeutic programs therapists guide all facets of program involvement. At The High Frontier, "Group Leaders" are in charge of the case. Individual therapy is offered by well qualified people who only do therapy. At the level of case planning with staff, they do provide guidance, but do not generally have a hands-on involvement with the milieu of the program. But we know that this system affords the students an opportunity to access a therapist on some matters outside the interaction of the program milieu.
• Extensive Equine program -- The High Frontier includes all students in a "horsemanship" program that they are careful not to call "equine therapy." They do claim (and we agree) significant therapeutic benefit. Students participate in off campus activities with horsemanship including 4H activities and rodeos.
• The High Frontier includes art as a key part of the therapeutic program, although they are careful not to use the term "art therapy." They see this (and we agree) as an important way to stimulate creativity.
• The High Frontier is a reasonable follow up venue for a teenager who has been treated for Reactive Attachment disorder in another location. We do not recommend The High Frontier for primary treatment of Reactive Attachment Disorder and we do not believe the program claims that expertise. However when a young person has successfully gone through intensive treatment for attachment issues, the special style of staff to student interaction is supportive of teenagers consolidating those gains.
• Communication -- This is one area of significant weakness, but we need to keep it in perspective. This weakness does not, in our opinion, overshadow the strength and effectiveness of this program. We have not had complaints from families about communication with parents of students, and that would be an even more serious problem if they were short on that area of communication. We believe, however, that good communication with referral sources is important for many reasons, not the least of which is continuity of care. The quality of communication with referral sources regarding a student referred to The High Frontier depends entirely upon the whim and personality of the group leader in charge of the group in which that particular student is placed. The management of the program does not hold its staff accountable for maintaining the quality of communication we generally expect of schools and programs in this price range.
In response to the above, The High Frontier responded that they are up to standards in communicating with parents. We agree. We reaffirm that we see deficiencies with communication with referral sources that can impair continuity of care.
• Location -- We have had clients we thought would benefit from this program refuse to consider it because of location. It is a bit less than a three hour drive from the Midland Odessa airport and a bit more than three hours from the El Paso airport. We are aware of only one place for overnight lodging in Fort Davis, a 1950s style motel and RV park. Nearest chain hotels are 23 miles away in Alpine TX. But when The High Frontier is the best choice, we hope families will accept the inconvenience.
Disclaimer: No program review, no matter how positive, is a blanket endorsement. No criticism is a blanket condemnation. When we express our level of confidence in a school or program, that is our subjective opinion with which others might reasonably disagree. When we assert something as fact, we have done our best to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that all of our information is accurate and up to date. When we address compliance with our guidelines, you need to remember that these are only OUR guidelines -- not guidelines from an official source. We have also set the bar very high, and do not expect any school or program to be in total compliance. It is not appropriate to draw a conclusion of impropriety (or even failure to live up to conventional wisdom) from our lack of confidence in a school or program or from less than perfect conformity to our guidelines. Some will say we expect too much. Readers are responsible for verifying accuracy of information supplied here prior to acting upon it. We are not responsible for inaccuracies.
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Last updated 8-17-2012
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