Stone Mountain School
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FamilyLight now (February 1, 2013) recommends referring to or enrolling in any Aspen or CRC Health school or program only with caution, although we no longer rule out those referrals entirely at this time.  We want people considering referrals to Aspen to realize that they are a subsidiary of Bain Capital, which has very concrete expectations of financial performance of each program.    At the same time, we are aware since the very concerning behaviors from a few years ago have not been repeated recently, and we have seen actions  that have been taken to improve quality.  

This program is one that FamilyLight sm has highly respected prior to the very troubling behavior of  Aspen/ CRC Health/ Bain Capital a few years ago.  Now that we are relaxing those concerns -- somewhat -- Stone Mountain  School warrants a new look.  

Consultant David Altshuler  provided a guest review which is posted just below the box.  Mr. Altshuler has evaluated this program in 2010.  We deferred to his judgment then, subject to some comments that follow his review.  We are aware of significant staff changes since then.   Consider observations beyond ours when assessing this school.

Article continues below box

FamilyLight sm is an educational consulting firm specializing in work with families with a young person with behavioral, emotional or psychological difficulties.  We offer in-depth personal guidance to families on a fee basis and free guidance on the internet. FamilyLightsm attempts to be fully objective and accepts no advertising nor referral fees.

We have just introduced a new option.  We will now work with families who want less than our comprehensive package.  For more information click on this sentence.

This review is based in part on a visit to the school on July 28, 2009.  Here are the words of Mr. Altshuler:

Stone Mountain is new.  If you haven't been to Stone Mountain in the past several months then you haven't been there at all.  The new Stone Mountain uses a gentle, positive approach. 

Years ago, Stone Mountain wasn't clinical; now it is.  Stone Mountain didn't have therapists on staff.  Now there are six clinicians.  Stone Mountain wasn't even an emotional growth boarding school; now it is a therapeutic boarding school. 

A year ago, Stone Mountain students slept in tents, cooked outside, and had no indoor plumbing near their sleeping quarters.  Students only came inside to attend school or have meals.  Now students sleep indoors.  The old classrooms have been converted to the new dormitories.  The dining hall is still rustic with a summer camp feel.  But Stone Mountain no longer reminds me of New Dominion or Three Springs Blue Ridge.  The facility isn't as nice as Academy at Swift River and is a long way from the elegance of Carlbrook, but that's the direction it seems to be heading.  The cabins are completely new with 12 bunk beds, a kitchen and a laundry in one big room.  One staff member sleeps in the bunk.  Stone Mountain School is now a therapeutic boarding school.  It is nothing like what it was. 

Families looking at Stone Mountain now are also considering Cherokee Creek and Cherry Gulch.  Occasionally, there are cross applications with Valley View and Little Keswick.  After Stone Mountain, students go on to Brehm, Braughton, Academy at Swift River, Mount Bachelor Academy and Hyde.  Some go on to public schools back home.

Stone Mountain has also broadened its focus and is looking at more than one population of boys.  In the past, when I thought of Stone Mountain, I thought of a boy who might be too much of a behavior problem for Franklin Academy, too much of an East Coast kid for Boulder Creek Academy, too high functioning for Cedars in Delaware.  I would look at Stone Mountain for a kid with mild NLD or a kid with a huge discrepancy between his verbal and processing speed sub-tests.  And of course, I thought of Stone Mountain for oppositional defiant boys and boys with substance abuse issues.  I will still think of Stone Mountain for these boys, but I will also look at Stone Mountain for boys with language based learning differences.

Stone Mountain will give oral exams for kids who have trouble with written expression.  One student was pulled out of science class until he could catch up on reading which he was able to do using Orton-Gillingham.  The curriculum is designed to meet the child where he is.  No more shame and guilt.  As a result, there are fewer behavioral issues in the classroom.

Stone Mountain is still working with boys for whom hygiene can be an issue.  These boys get points or tokens when they manage their own clothes and do their laundry on a schedule.  They are supposed to learn how to fold, manage and keep track of their clothes.  For many of these boys, taking care of themselves and their environment has not been a priority at home.  The idea is to learn pro-social skills that can transfer subsequently.  A minimum of four showers a week is required.  Seven showers a week is encouraged.  The idea is to help the boys self regulate. 

There are social gatherings with nearby facilities for girls—dances, bowling and roller skating with New Leaf and Auldern.  Again, the emphasis is on pro-social activities and behavior.

Two “Stone Mountains” ago, there were kids who got money from the state.  They even served chronically violent kids.  Not any more.  This softer model is even softer than the one that replaced the old one.  Now there are no kids with court records, no kids with conduct disorder.  Kids with intermittent explosive disorder are a rule out as well.  (These kids might look at Cedars, for example.)  Stone Mountain is not a behavior modification program; it is a therapeutic boarding school now.

Another big change is in the academic piece:  Stone Mountain boys are now exposed to a Memory Enhancement curriculum.  Susan Hardy, the executive director says they have seen great results.  The program is called “CogMed” and is supposed to improve working memory over the course of a six-week curriculum.  Interest in learning and organization is supposed to improve as well. (Editor's comment:  Please see addendum to this review dated April 3, 2010)

Also new is the emphasis on the Orton-Gillingham method.  There are three trained teachers, one of whom, Karen, has been teaching using O-G for over 20 years.  To help maximize academic success, there are Kurzweil readers as well as earphones that can block or increase noise as appropriate to help students concentrate.  A new, although minor addition, is equine therapy.  Some of the classes are as small as two to five students.  The school day now lasts from 8:45 in the morning until 5:05 in the afternoon.  There are plans for a library and they are working on getting accredited.  Susan, the ED, has been through the accreditation process before and says she is confident that Stone Mountain will pass easily and efficiently. 

The curriculum is based on Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey.  It begins with the story of “Jumping Mouse and the Sacred Mountains” then takes the students through “levels:” The first level is “Sleeper”, the pre-contemplative stage.  Subsequent stages include Observer, Story Teller, Giver and others.  Each stage described in the manual has goals followed by a section on Qualities and Description.

Also new are parent seminars which convene three times each year.  The family is now valued as part of the treatment team.  Students make four home visits each year:  Easter, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Of course, enrollment is year round.  The first “home visit” for new students may take place in a local hotel rather than in the student's home town.  Parents are taught how to help kids earn privileges and how to impose consequences as well.  For many families, Stone Mountain is the first out of the home intervention.  Only about a third come from wilderness.  The rest come to Stone Mountain from home or from traditional boarding schools.  A small minority come from hospitals.  Of course, enrollees must accept a sober lifestyle.  Many therapists agreed that the parents need help parenting in this difficult culture.

If I ran the zoo:  The following criticisms should be taken for what they are, trivial and personal.  Surely, after more than 30 years of working with adolescents, I must acknowledge that there a great many ways to skin a cat—that there are many programs doing good work, not every one of which adheres to every aspect of my philosophy or education and child development.  Just the same, I wish that the goal of attaining the highest level at Stone Mountain were something other than access to electronics.  The top kids are allowed access to their I-Pods or a few minutes of video gaming.  Surely, the goal of this good program should not be to return the kids back to where they started—focused on moving their thumbs rather than their brains.

I could also do without the emphasis on external motivators.  How will the boys learn to rely on their own interior compasses?  How will they become intrinsically motivated if the only way up and out is through a prescribed set of behaviors.  This is a criticism of all level systems in general and not the one at Stone Mountain in particular.  The interested reader is directed to Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn.  (Full fiduciary disclosure:  the author and I have been friends since high school.) 

What I liked most about my visit to Stone Mountain:

1)      The opportunity to meet each and every therapist!  What a pleasure to listen to these highly educated, insightful, caring folks talk about the students and families with whom they like to work.  They impressed me as a talented and deeply committed group.  One wonderful young therapist talked about the parallels between addiction to technology and addiction to drugs and alcohol and what Stone Mountain's programming was doing to help with this critical issue.

2)      Although the suggested length of stay is 12 months, Stone Mountain will not keep monies if families wish to pull their children sooner.  If the reader will forgive an editorial comment:  we, as consultants should consider refusing to refer to programs who keep more than reasonable fees for students who withdraw early.  Broadly speaking, how much of a financial penalty for early withdrawal is reasonable?  A month's tuition.  How much is unreasonable?  A year's tuition.

In summary, I am eager to see if they are able to fulfill the vision and commitment of the new Stone Mountain.

David Altshuler, M.S., Educational Consultant

We at FamilyLight sm  greatly appreciate Mr. Altshuler's review.  We believe that with these changes, Stone Mountain School might be a candidate for our "Positive Intervention" designation.  This review makes clear that Stone Mountain School is at least moving in that direction.  In order for that to occur, we need to receive a completed questionnaire, as well as see clarification and/or improvements in some areas Mr. Altshuler does not address.  For example, compared to our last visit, we want to see more evidence of consistent affirmation of the boys.  We emphasize that concern is only in context of the "Positive Intervention" designation.  We do not mean to imply that Stone Mountain School falls short in that regard compared to other special schools and programs.  It is clear from Mr. Altshuler's review that serious progress is happening. 

For those interested in the history of schools and programs, we observe that the changes that David Altshuler reports involve movement away from the Campbell Loughmiller Wilderness Road model. 

We also want to affirm our great confidence in the current leadership at Stone Mountain School (August 4, 2009) (not to diminish past leadership, whom we also respect).   Long before Susan Hardy began to work at Stone Mountain School, we believed that she was one of the most outstanding leaders in special education in the country and we maintain that faith today. We think just as highly of academic director, John Singleton.  This is quite a depth chart.

Addendum as of April 12, 2010:  We have new concerns regarding promotion of the Cogmed program at Stone Mountain School.  To all appearances, the  program is a useful tool for students with a deficiency in working memory,  This is NOT all students with learning disabilities, with ADHD, with non verbal learning differences, with autism/ PDD/ Aspergers spectrum issues and/or processing issues. It is for Working memory.  It may help with any number of the other issues indirectly because of working memory problems as a co-occurring issue or a contributing issue.

We also  want to affirm our confidence in the on-site management at Stone Mountain School, especially Executive Director, Susan Hardy and Educational Director, John Singleton.  We mention this due to our current postings on Aspen Education, Stone Mountain School's parent company, in which we have less confidence than we have in Stone Mountain School. 

We would still like be able to designate Stone Mountain School as  a Positive Intervention school.  We hope promotional efforts do not intervene to prevent that.

Information about David Altshuler

Official web site of Stone Mountain School

Aspen Education Brand of CRC Health Group

Return to Individual Schools and Programs Index

Visit report from Woodbury Reports

Feedback is invited. We will publish feedback in good taste, consistent with our standards. Email

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  2-13-2013

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