Over 170 members of Wellspring’s community of staff, board members, clients, students, families, and friends (old and new) gathered together to celebrate the opening of the newly completed Dodds Family Center for Arts & Athletics on September 19, 2015. The day’s events centered around a celebration of Arch Bridge School’s 25th Birthday and honoring the school’s founder Susan Scott Schoenbach.
Throughout the day Wellspring employees and leaders expressed their gratitude to the many individuals who helped make our dream of the new building a reality.
Dan Murray, Wellspring’s CEO, shared the following quote, reminding those gathered of the amazing shared accomplishment of opening the Dodds Family Center:
Start by doing what’s necessary; then do whats possible;
and suddenly you’re doing the impossible. - Saint Francis
The new building provides Wellspring with much needed spaces – a gymnasium/event center for large groups to come together, an exercise room, classrooms for Arch Bridge School’s Lower School (previously housed in temporary trailers), and a conference room for trainings and art exhibits that will serve double duty as a dining room for the Arch Bridge day students.
Over the past few weeks our campus has been buzzing with activity as we move into the classroom wing of the building and explore the new spaces available for recreational activities. Stay tuned for more photos this fall as we settle in, but in the meantime click here to see some photographs of the new building and our event in September.
An Integrated Model of Care and Education:
Wellspring and the Arch Bridge School
“Residential Treatment” has been under assault for some time, as you may know. Critics have made claims about its shortcomings, many of which are absolutely true. But residential treatment is not just one model. There have been several models available to families that have been successful, time tested and outcome supported. Sadly, many of these programs have failed to survive or have been forced into dramatic changes from the pressures they face.
The unsuccessful and even hurtful residential programs have been the “warehouse” models that provide a long-term living situation for large groups of children. These programs typically offer behavior modification along with recreational activities and socialization. By necessity, educational programs are connected to them, but they usually have lower expectations and are able to avoid teacher credentialing in meeting state licensing requirements.
So, does an “ideal” care model actually exist with clinically intensive residential treatment and special education for children suffering from psychiatric illnesses? Everyone can agree these young people need a safe, well-supervised environment when struggling with suicidal behaviors, manic episodes, psychotic thinking, or post traumatic stress. What would prevent us from offering them and their families a quality private school experience in a clinically focused residential setting? If you have an ample, well-trained staff and require parents to participate as part of the solution, wouldn’t this be an ideal model of “Integrated Care”?
Integrated Care can have many dimensions, but the question with each is – what is being brought together and for what purpose? The care model I’ll describe was developed at Wellspring, a multi-service mental health and educational agency in Bethlehem, CT. It offers three levels of integrated care: Intensive residential treatment combined with special needs education; the use of different treatment modalities acting in concert; and a blend of transitional step-downs, day school and outpatient services in a continuum of care. All of this is contained in a private school environment, with the personal integration of the resident-student woven through each level. I’ll begin with the integration of treatment and education.
At Wellspring, clinically intensive residential treatment is integrated with special education in a way that is unique in the realm of therapeutic schooling. Each component is accredited by top-flight agencies – Wellspring by the Joint Commission (JCAHO) and its Arch Bridge School by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). The Arch Bridge School serves Wellspring’s residential programs – children’s, adolescent, and young adult – and also functions as a Day School for students bussed from surrounding districts. Since its accreditation by NEASC in 2012, the Arch Bridge School has been designated each year as a School of Excellence by the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET).
Outcome studies have continually verified the effectiveness of both components. In 2014, an independent evaluation survey of Wellspring by the CT Department of Children and Families found that 100% of residential students (adolescents and children) answered “Yes” to the statement – “I like being in this program since it’s helping me and my family.” Wellspring’s internal survey of parents, residents and day students asked – “Would you recommend the Arch Bridge School to others?” Over a five year period ending in 2014 the mean response on a scale of 1-7 was 6.7.
In 2012, the NEASC survey team made the following statements in its evaluation:
“Educationally and emotionally, the Arch Bridge School is on the leading edge in many of their philosophies and designs. Culturally, Arch Bridge’s family atmosphere and unyielding commitment to excellence would be the envy of most schools.”
“One of the most outstanding resources of the Arch Bridge School is their staff. They are exceptionally well-trained and deeply passionate about helping and teaching this population…The Arch Bridge School staff experience their mission as transforming, and in many cases, saving lives. This was confirmed time and again by staff at all levels, parents, and the students themselves.”
At the second level of integrated care – that of program – the reason for success is apparent. The basic approach to treatment and education is personal and relational, which is integrative in its own right. The personal dimension is based on a cultivated awareness and response by staff to the unique nature and giftedness of each resident or student. This involves a deeper look at the individual than diagnosing a disorder or a learning disability. It is a concerted effort to see, affirm and foster this “personal” core through staff relationships. Joined with clinical experience and skill, this approach gives depth to how behavioral and learning issues are addressed and helps stabilize the treatment and educational process.
Examples abound. Debbie’s deep response to animals in the animal program awakened a self-discovery that led her to become a veterinary assistant upon graduation, with the hope of someday becoming a vet. Gina’s love for cooking was apparent when her mother discovered her avidly watching the food channel when she was four years old. She rediscovered this passion at Wellspring, where it became the basis for her entire educational program. With graduation she enrolled in culinary school. Shauna was mired in negativity and treatment resistance when she hacked into Wellspring’s computer system to read her clinical chart. To her surprise, after some initial uproar, she was lauded for her audacity as a detective and for her evident gift for computer science. Though initially expressed in “bad” behavior, the recognition and affirmation of her underlying gift opened the door to active involvement in treatment and a positive discharge. Each of these residential students had been stuck in negativity, hopelessness and depression; suicidality was part of that. Yet through the recognition and affirmation of a unique gift each found a practical lifeline to a future that supported the hard work of change.
At Wellspring, the personal and relational approach is fully integrated into program design. Disorders and learning disabilities are complex; but so are people. Because each person responds differently to different media, no single modality or approach can meet all the needs of a given individual. Program design must be comprehensive to address the different aspects of a disorder, but it should also be holistic to touch the mind, heart, body and spirit of a person.
Treatment is centered by individual therapy twice a week and family therapy once a week. Milieu therapy in the school and residence supports this work with particular attention to peer and staff relationships. As parental relationships become transferred to the milieu staff in their “parenting” roles, the acting out of these patterns is focused back into the individual and family therapy. Multiple interactive group therapies concentrate on developing self-assertion, caring feedback, caring confrontation and conflict resolution. These skills in turn funnel back into the family therapy, bi-weekly parent support and multi-family groups to address problems and reconstitute family relationships. In these different ways, the interpersonal world of the resident becomes a practical school of personal and relational development.
The integration of different modalities can have a synergistic effect on treatment, but this is accomplished only through close collaboration – no small matter to achieve. An essential part of the mix is the twice-weekly Emotional Expressive group, designed to evoke and express the blocked emotions of sadness, anger, pain so basic to affective disorders and PTSD. Primary therapists are present in these groups to integrate these basic emotions through follow-up individual work. This becomes a bridge in turn to convert raw emotional expression into effective and appropriate communication of feeling in the family therapy.
Creative-expressive groups – art, sand tray, and drama improvisation – evoke and reflect a sense of self, a sense of “who I am.” Surprisingly, these creative media work in concert with the physical activities of animal therapy, horticultural therapy, work therapy, and adventure program for the same end. The individuality expressed through creative media has its embodied counterpart in the instinctual self revealed by the resident in working side by side with staff and peers in hands-on work. These land-based media also build ego-strength through learning how to work and developing a work ethic to meet the challenges and opportunities real life presents.
Land-based programs are often thought of as a clinical luxury, but at Wellspring they are considered essential. Richard Louv, in his book The Last Child in the Woods, has coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder” to characterize the unhealthy effects of young people’s increasing disconnection from nature through fixation on virtual reality. Camping, canoeing, ropes course, and the camaraderie of shared work and play experiences, make involvement with nature inviting and help correct this imbalance.
From a belief in the whole person, Wellspring is intentionally counter-cultural in this regard. Immersion into soil that grows vegetables and flowers is different than just getting dirty, though in an adolescent’s mind it may start out the same. Getting to know a chicken, a lamb, a goat, or a rabbit can be a revelation to an adolescent otherwise cut off from direct experience. So can camping out in the woods. Most adolescents have never engaged in community service – never helped in a soup kitchen or washed cars to raise money for a local ambulance service that also serves them. They discover satisfaction in helping others.
Not to forget the medical dimension of integrated care. Each residential program is supported by quality psychiatric care and 24 hour nursing coverage. Both are supported in turn by nutritional consultation and guidance. Unlike outpatient care, a supportive residential setting can test medications to see what’s actually needed and what helps, in contrast to medication add-ons for symptom control. As the resident becomes healthier through treatment, medications can be either discontinued or diminished.
This brings us to the third level of integration – the continuum of care available to residents, students and families as they progress in treatment. This continuum is multi-faceted and situational. As a resident-student progresses in the residential context, they may step down to less intensive treatment similar to a typical therapeutic school. If living locally, they may attend the Arch Bridge Day School while participating in some residential groups and meeting with their primary therapist in individual and family work. Young adults may attend college classes while in residence, preparing for eventual return to full-time college. Or they can take a part-time job while in residence as preparation to live independently nearby. They can then be in partial care and spend two or three days a week at Wellspring, connecting with friends made in residence, while seeing their primary therapist as an outpatient.
In other words, a care continuum is fashioned individually based on readiness and flexibly blended services to provide necessary support. Residential step-down opportunities include day-school, therapeutic schooling, part-time employment, outpatient therapy, and off-campus living as available options. The intent is to provide support through established relationships, because continuity of relationship is a crucial factor in managing transitions. While the goal is always to make these transitions as seamless as possible, change is never seamless. It can, however, be made less bumpy and disjointed.
Wellspring’s model of integrated care provides clinically intensive residential treatment in a private school environment. It fosters personal integration with continuity of relationship to stabilize the process. But a model differs from the work required to make it reality. This work is arduous and never-ending, but having the right framework focuses right action, and the results support the continued effort. The Wellspring model of integrated care ascends through four levels beginning with the person, extending through comprehensive and holistic programming, to the integration of treatment with education, to a continuum of care suited to the individual and family. Although it is always a work in process needing continual adjustment, for young people with psychiatric problems – it works!
Article Published in Behavioral Health News – Fall 2015
Written by: Richard Beauvais, Phd, Wellspring Cofounder
Join us in celebrating the Arch Bridge School’s 25th Birthday with this unique giving opportunity.
We are creating a donor tree wall in the main lobby of the Dodds Family Center for Arts and Athletics this fall to commemorate Arch Bridge School’s 25th Anniversary. Monies raised will go towards furnishing the building and landscaping.
We invite you, your family, or your business to have your name and/or a special message inscribed on a leaf of the tree.
You may order as many leaves as you wish!
GOLD LEAF $1,000
SILVER LEAF $500
BRONZE LEAF $100
NASET Names the Arch Bridge School at Wellspring as a School of Excellence – Highest Honor Among Private Special Education Programs
The Arch Bridge School at Wellspring, a leader in therapeutic education, has been honored as a 2015-2016 National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) School of Excellence.
Bestowed upon only a few select qualified licensed schools in the state of Connecticut, the School of Excellence award is NASET’s highest level of recognition and is presented to schools that meet rigorous professional criteria and have demonstrated exceptional dedication, commitment and achievement in the field of special education.
“The Arch Bridge School works to provide the highest level of academic support to students suffering severe emotional and educational issues,” said Ralph Scafariello, Director of Education at The Arch Bridge School at Wellspring. “It is an honor to be selected as a School of Excellence, thanks to the hard work and dedication of our staff members. This distinction comes at an exciting time as we are completing the addition of a new Arts and Athletics Center on campus, which will allow us to even better serve the students in our care.”
The Arch Bridge School at Wellspring serves children in grades 1-12 and has earned multiple commendations from the State of Connecticut’s Department of Education. The school offers academics and college preparatory courses, allowing students to meet their unique academic objectives while in our day school or residential treatment programs. The Arch Bridge School has a long history of success in serving youth with emotional and psychological issues along with learning vulnerabilities.
At Wellspring and The Arch Bridge School youth develop the skills and resources they need to return to a public school setting, return to home, or enroll in college. For more information about Wellspring and The Arch Bridge School, visit www.wellspring.org.
The National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) is a national membership organization dedicated to rendering all possible support and assistance to those preparing for or teaching in the field of special education. NASET was founded to promote the profession of special education teachers and to provide a national forum for their ideas.
The mission of The National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) is to render all possible support and assistance to professionals who teach children with special needs. NASET seeks to promote standards of excellence and innovation in special education research, practice, and policy in order to foster exceptional teaching for exceptional children. Learn more at www.naset.org.
Summer is a time for celebration at Wellspring’s Arch Bridge School. On June 24 this year, nine students in the senior class graduated from high school and participated in a heartwarming ceremony in Bethlehem, Connecticut.
The graduation day format includes opportunities for staff and students to share their experiences at Arch Bridge School and Wellspring. Susan Schoenbach, Arch Bridge School’s founder and former Director of Education, was the keynote speaker. While congratulating and honoring the students and their families, she related the story of Arch Bridge School’s transformation over 25 years from a tutorial program to a fully accredited, highly respected private school, now acclaimed as a “School of Excellence” by the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET).
A unique and touching element of the commencement ceremonies every year is that each graduating senior is invited to speak. Their stories – delivered through lots of laughter and many tears – are heartfelt, inspirational, and overflowing with gratitude.
Many of the students’ stories illustrated the difficulties and obstacles they faced before finding Arch Bridge School, and they expressed gratitude for the support they found there that put them on the road to healing and success. Several students stated that they would not be alive today if it weren’t for Wellspring and the Arch Bridge School.
One graduate shared, “Remember that no one was born into this world to be alone. You always have someone there to help, no matter how desperate the situation. You are not alone – especially not here [at Wellspring].”
Another declared, “Wellspring helped save my life, but most importantly, it made me realize that my life was worth living.”
Schools where some of the graduates were accepted into college include Fairfield University, Lincoln Tech, Lyndon State University, Naugatuck Community College, Northwest Community College, Norwalk Community College, University of Connecticut, University of Hartford, and Western Connecticut State University.