Family Foundation School — Archived 2013 Review

The following is the review of Family Foundation School that we developed in August and September of 2013, unaware of the changes that were coming with the change of name to Allynwood Academy and the augmentations of program that occurred with that name change in October and November, 2013.    We believe this was a fair review of the school at that time.    We are using this as the starting point to massage this text into an updated review of Allynwood Academy, keeping in mind the augmentations of program.  

Family Foundation School, to us at FamilyLight, is a breath of fresh air. It is one of th oldest if not the oldest therapeutic school still in operation, yet they maintain more aggressive self study, self improvement, and change for the better than any other school or program we can think of. If you have not seen Family Foundation School in the past two years, you have not seen Family Foundation School. It is one of two therapeutic schools we have been comfortable referring a student to who really would be best served in a psychiatric RTC (Residential Treatment Center) or RTF (Residential Treatment Facility) whose parents could not afford that (the other is Montcalm School in Albion MI, for the most part serving a very different population: arguably the same is true of Montana Academy and Carlbrook School). As recently as three years ago we would not have done that. They are also outstanding for their transparency and commitment to a truly charitable purpose. If we ask Family Foundation School’s senior managers a question, we can absolutely count on a truthful answer with no evasions, including when they reasonably expect we won’t like the answer. We also know that they live by the principle of true charitable institutions: They do not provide a service to make money; they accept payment so that they can continue to provide services.

Family Foundation School has been challenged by a well organized small group of people, well publicized on the Internet, who are not concerned about quality improvement but are simply out to destroy. For the most part this is a combination of outright false allegation, half truths, innuendo, and judging actual events of many years ago by todays standards. As an example of half-truths, they make a very big deal of their own success in triggering a state investigation of the school, but fail to mention that the investigation cleared the school of any wrongdoing,in particular clearing the school of any allegations of abuse. The details of the state investigations reports and the school's response to those reports are on the school's website. Our consultant, Tom Croke was the first consultant to refer to Family Foundation School, twenty years ago!! Family Foundation School operates on a large rural tract of land between Hancock and Calicoon, New York.

The main part of the school is a boarding high school operating all year around. Family Foundation School also has a transition program for their older students, called "The Bridge" operating partly on the main campus near Hancock and partly in downtown Binghamton, about an hour away. The entire school remains twelve step based, a continuation of past tradition and a fact that leads to serious confusion about what this school is and who it best serves. At its founding and when FamilyLight first became involved, this school was only appropriate for students with serious alcohol and/or drug addictions and/or extremes of oppositional behavior plus substance abuse. That enrollment in this school should currently be limited to those populations is emphatically no longer true. Just like most therapeutic programs for teens and young adults regardless of their focus, substance abuse is frequently a factor in a large number of Family Foundation School students, but certainly not all. No Family Foundation School student is ever pressured to declare himself or herself an addict or alcoholic. All are encouraged to think of the twelve step concept of powerlessness in terms of ANYTHING that they believe they are powerless over. While the program remains highly spiritual in the sense of the "higher power" emphasis of Alcoholics Anonymous. it is completely non sectarian and accommodates students of all religious backgrounds and of no religious background.

On campus religious observances remain but they are optional. The school is divided into gender specific "families." These families have their common area for group meetings and relaxation and a separate dining room in one of the two the main buildings. These provide students with a sense of "home base" during the day. The students sleep at night in newly constructed small buildings with bunk rooms and full bath/shower facilities, but these are only occupied overnight. These bunk areas are family specific (remember families are now gender specific).

Each family is headed by a faculty couple whose role is similar in some respects (but different in others) to house parents. This arrangement gives students the best of both worlds -- gender specific and coed. By keeping the families gender specific (except each family has one opposite gender head of family and a lead therapist who might be opposite gender) students get the best of both gender specific and coed living. Family based recreational and therapeutic activities are gender specific. This allows separation in the areas where males and females are likely to have different interests and sensitivities and still be able to interact.

But other activities of the school are co-ed. The school program is the most like a high quality public school program that we are aware of among therapeutic programs, except for the size of the school compared to most public schools. We are aware of only three other therapeutic schools with education programs that we believe offer comparable academic excellence: Montana Academy, Oakley School, and Carlbrook School, each of which operates with more of a private school culture. Classes are co-ed and meet the very high standards of the New York State Regents system.

Students graduating from Family School after attending for two years are by regulation entitled to New York State resident tuition even if from out of state (although we know of instances of this being contested -- use care in pursuing this). In very recent years Family Foundation School has become extremely attentive to learning differences and disabilities. It also offers a full range of extracurricular activities from interscholastic athletic teams to performing arts, newspaper and yearbook.Academic offerings in music and the arts are also outstanding. We know of no other therapeutic school that offers all of this. Since the 2008 recession, the student body at Family Foundation School has downsized. The staff has downsized much less than the student body and has increased the numbers of people and hours of service of credentialed mental health clinicians. The physical plant has remained static, albeit with some significant improvements: The greatest physical improvement apart from more physical building space per student overall is the addiction of very clean, modern, comfortable, functional dormitory areas. The result: students have more space, nicer space, and more individual attention and more of their individual attention with more highly trained clinicians.

Because this review is much longer than most, we are breaking it up into sections on different sub-topics.

Relevant History of Family Foundation School

Controversy Surrounding the School

Recommendations to Family Foundation School

To parents considering placing your son or daughter at Family Foundation School, you can be assured that your son or daughter will receive sensitive quality care in a loving environment. The Internet criticisms in some cases are outright falsehoods and in other cases serious exaggerations. Some include a grain of truth but with a context that creates a distorted total picture.

Still Family Foundation School is not for everyone. You need to be sure that your son's or daughter's needs match what this school has to offer and what it does well. But to as great a degree of any program we know -- and to a much greater degree than no more than a half dozen other programs -- you can rely on their admission people to speak truthfully to you and to help you arrive at a very good decision about whether the school is right for you.

Current Review of Allynwood Academy

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Website for Allynwood Academy Website for The Family Foundation School
Last updated October 14, 2013

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