Aspen Achievement Academy

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Aspen Achievement Academy was a wilderness therapy program based in Loa, Utah with a minimum stay of 35 days.

At the time of its closure it is a part of Aspen Education Group.

The target group was adolescent males and females, ages 13-17, with a history of moderate to severe emotional and behavioral problems, low self-esteem, academic underachievement, substance abuse and family conflict. They offered contact to a Teen escort company if needed.

It was JCAHO certified and licensed as an Outdoor Treatment Program by the State of Utah Department of Human Services.

Program description[redigér]

A typical stay could be described by these levels

Phase Description
Assessment When the detainee arrived, the person would undergo an Diagnostic Assessment phase, which consisted of a review of the student's medical history and medication status, a physical examination, urine drug screen and lab work. The purpose was to find out whether the detainee had any medically based problems that must be treated prior to entering the program. It should also asses the detainee physical ability to handle the demands of the field.

If a detainee had recently completed a psychological evaluation, the staff would use them to formulate a individualized treatment plan. Otherwise the staff will do the evaluation themselves.

Once the detained teenager entered the program there was a number of levels which the detained teenager had to complete in order to be released. They are listed below:

Mouse The detainee are taken to camp site of one of the team, where ceremony of introduction is undertaken. People in Mouse phase are not allowed to talk during this phase which can take about 48 hours. After a short introduction they are taken to a place where they must remain isolated at a shelter and observe how the group function. Any need and food is cared for by the group. They must write about why they think that they are sent there and what they expect to offer the group and what they thinks need to altered in themselves. With the help of a staff person, they have selected, they will undergo a second ceremony blindfolded after they have shown desire to move up to the next phase. A lot historical incorrect references toward prehistoric Indian embrace the phase. Upon the acceptance of the group, the detainee can join the team as Coyote member.
Coyote During this phase, which normal last about 14 days, the detainee must do chores and that behavior has consequences. It is also in this phase where the student must read the impact letter to the group. A letter from the parents which given the poor family structure of a typical detainee often is the first time the detainee learns of the motive for forcing the person to the program.

As listed on the program website the tasks that a detainee must be able to handle are:

  • Complete a bow drill fire on five separate days.
  • Cooks meals for oneself.
  • Takes appropriate care for gear, clothes, and other possessions.
  • Demonstrates good personal hygiene.
  • Practices safe behavior.
  • Follows directions appropriately.
  • Uses time wisely to complete daily tasks.
  • Demonstrates basic communication skills.
  • Learning how to respect self and others.
  • Reads impact letter from parents in group.
  • Complete all required curriculum activities in a timely manner.
  • Participates and demonstrates competency in daily reviews of yesterday's activities.
  • Begins to identify issues that brought you to Aspen.
  • Participates in group therapy.
  • Participates in individual therapy.
  • Completes assignments given by therapist in a timely manner.
  • Write two letters home to your parents, including sharing experiences you are having at Aspen.
  • Create three goals to work toward while at Aspen.
Buffalo This phase also last about 14 days and after the old self image of the detainee should have broken down, it is time for the person to develop a kind of family / community relation to the team and a higher sense of consequence. Tasks in this phase are:
  • Demonstrates improved communication skills
  • Calls groups when conflict arises
  • Communicates without profanity.
  • Confronts others appropriately.
  • Asks for help and guidance from others appropriately.
  • Gives and receives appropriate feedback to/from others.
  • Assists new Coyotes in adjusting to group.
  • Demonstrates respect toward others.
  • Works toward growth for self rather than external reasons.
  • Promotes teamwork within the group.
  • Write a letter of responsibility to parents and share in group.
  • Assist in the teaching of other detainees in at least two bow drill fire methods.
  • Plans and cooks one meal for the entire group.
  • Make a gift that will be useful to the whole group.
  • Begins to take responsibility for behavior that resulted in being sent to Aspen.
  • Takes more active role in individual therapy.
  • Takes more active role in group therapy.
  • Write at least one letter home to your parents, including the identification of issues that you and your family can work on.
  • Create and commit in writing, two goals for the future in each of the following five categories: physical, intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual.
Eagle Based on the new inflicted self-image, this phase focus on transition them into the home settings. This phase last about 14 days. Tasks in this phase are:
  • Assist in teaching one curriculum lesson makes gifts for family members
  • Be responsible for leading group in completing a service project.
  • Provides appropriate leadership to other group members.
  • Assist in facilitating one process group.
  • Assist other students with their skill development.
  • Promotes trustworthiness in group.
  • Actively participates in daily process groups.
  • Takes initiative in organizing daily activities.
  • Leads group without exhibiting dominating or controlling qualities
  • Is truthful
  • Admits mistakes, takes ownership.
  • Gives and receives constructive feedback regarding strengths and weaknesses
Reunion In this phase the detainee clean up the camp, clothes and body, so the family members don't face the harsh reality of a detainee being paced 7 weeks in the wilderness with limited possibilities of attending personal hygiene. After a good-bye to the group, the detainee runs about a mile down the track where the family waits. The physical exertion keeps the anger caused by the placement in the program to a minimum. United the family participate in family therapy, parent workshop, family solos, multifamily workshop to delay any kind of PTSD based on the ordeal. The phase end with graduation meal and ceremony, which marks the end of the program.

News, reports and articles[redigér]

The book: "Shouting at the Sky: Troubled Teens and the Promise of the Wild" by Gary Ferguson, ISBN 0-312-20008-0 is based on the author following a team.

The third season of the TV-show Brat Camp was shot at Aspen Achievement Academy <Ref>Girls interrupted, Are children in Brat Camp because their parents are too soft? No, says one psychologist — authoritarian parenting brought them there, by Oliver James, The Times, February 9 - 2006</Ref>

In 1990 when the nature of the wilderness programs became public, they complained that the media coverage hurt them <Ref>Hurt, The Deseret News. - Google News Archive - October 1, 1990</Ref>

In 1991 a Mother sued and accused ex-wilderness therapist of abusing her daughter. According to the newspapers the staff member allegedly admitted sodomizing the girl and was quiet abnormally for the industry fired <Ref>Mother sues, accuses ex-wilderness therapist of abusing daughter, Salt Lake Tribune, 1991</Ref> <Ref>Mother sues, accuses ex-wilderness therapist of abusing daughter, Salt Lake Tribune, December 5, 1991</Ref>.

In 1992 three boy escaped the program, but was later found <Ref>Staffer brings back 3 teens who fled wilderness program, Salt Lake Tribune, June 5, 1992</Ref>

In 1993 a boy fell down a cliff when he tried to commit suicide. According to articles the program was aware that a suicide risk existed <Ref>FOR THE RECORD, Salt Lake Tribune, October 20, 1993</Ref> <Ref>Child Attempts Suicide at Aspen Achievement Academy, Salt Lake Tribune, October 1993 (Re-print from International survivor action committee)</Ref>

In 1996 another teen ran away <Ref>Boy Flees Therapy Camp In S. Utah, Still Missing, Salt Lake Tribune, July 6, 1996</Ref>

Also in 1996 some of the detainees were involved in a riot <ref>Teens Face Charges In S. Utah Beating, Salt Lake Tribune, 1996</Ref><Ref name="hcn">Tough love proves too tough, By Christopher Smith, High Country News, June 10 1996</Ref>.

The 1996 riot made the authorities reconsider Aspen's license because other parties like tourists, hikers and vacationists frequent the public lands around Capitol Reef National Park. They could be at large if they were assaulted by renegade youths <Ref name=hcn/>

In relationship with the on-going investigation of a death by Youth Care in Draper, Salt Lake Tribune published that a suicide had taken place in April 2007 <Ref>Four recent Utah deaths in treatment programs, Facility put on probation, but free to take new clients, by Kirsten Stewart, Salt Lake Tribune, October 13, 2007</Ref>

Stettler confirmed Aspen's reputation, saying, "They've had a pretty spotless record."

Three of four recent deaths at Utah treatment programs, however, happened at Aspen facilities: Blum's and two suicides; one in July 2004 at Island View Academy in Syracuse, and another in April at Aspen Achievement Academy of Loa.

Stettler said the April suicide remains under investigation by law enforcement, but his own probe found Aspen wasn't at fault.


On their homepage the program states that they use a "soft approach" when the detainee resist the program <Ref>Safety Net, Aspen Achievement Academy homepage</Ref>. However, video clips linked from Community Alliance for the Fair and Ethical Treatment of Youth (Cafety) show another story about confrontations and take-downs <Ref>Media files from cafety</Ref>.

Some detainees don't benefit at all from being in the program. Issues that existed before the stay in the program increases due to the feeling of anger and abandonees of being put in the program. A girl participating in a Dr. Phil show (Kimberlee) ran away from home after completing the program <Ref>Search underway for missing Bacliff teen,, November 2006</Ref><ref>Troubled Teen Industry, a thread on the message board of Rick A. Institute</ref>. The girl was later recovered and detained by the police unharmed.


They ran a website to recruit new staff <Ref>Aspen Academy Recruiting</Ref>

External link[redigér]

Info pages[redigér]

Community groups[redigér]

Message boards[redigér]