8 vital skills from a mother’s perspective

Check out this interesting and informative article from “Survival Mom

She hits the mark dead on.  We should all be focusing on these with the children and adolescents we are responsible for – both by teaching and modeling.

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Must Read for Parents!

Simply the best books on the market today for parents with children in treatment, at risk for out of home placement, or considering residential treatment.


Hold On to Your Kids, Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers, Gordon Neufeld, PhD & Gabor Mate, MD

The Journey of the Heroic Parent, Your Child’s Struggle & The Road Home, Brad Reedy, PhD

Not By Chance, How Parents Boost Their Teen’s Success In and After Treatment, Tim Thayne, PhD

Anatomy of Peace, Resolving the Heart of Conflict, by the Arbinger Institute

Raising Healthy Kids in an Unhealthy World, David Altshuler

The Parallel Process: Growing Alongside Your Teen or Young Adult in Treatment, Krissy Pozatek

An Unchanged Mind: The Problem of Immaturity in Adolescence, John McKinnon

The New Co-Dependency by Melanie Beattie

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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished…

Although the years I spent at FFS and Allynwood Academy were some of the most rewarding in my 25+ year career, there are those who remain intent on sullying the reputation of the school and myself, based on their own ignorance, unaddressed resentments and misguided anger and advocacy. It’s easy to criticize, especially without the facts – it is quite another to get involved in organizations to effect real change, as I have done.  So, the purpose of this post is to address the points made by those who wish to slander myself and the role I played at FFS/Allynwood Academy.  I have been a victim of on-line bullying, which has given me a new awareness and sensitivity to what young people encounter as they deal with the new age of bullying (address in other blog posts on this site).

I want to highlight, especially to those who have chosen to advocate for youth in residential programs, that we share an interest and advocacy for the ethical (and positive) treatment of youth in treatment and residential programs.  The difference is that I have devoted my professional career to working directly for and on behalf of families and youth, and have often done that work from within, rather than passing judgment from a distance.

My connection with The Family Foundation School (FFS) began in 2004 after I visited the school to evaluate a student there, and I was recruited by Dr. Rita Argiros, who was at that time seeking to enhance the counseling services provided to the students.  When I started there as a part-time therapist, I saw first-hand the significant struggles of the students and the practices at the school, some of which were good and positive, while others were not. I expressed my concerns about those practices.  When Dr. Argiros asked me to step into the Director of Admissions role, I indicated I would do so only if I had a place at the table to implement the changes that needed to be made at the school.  I am proud of the fact that during my tenure there, I was able to play an active role in eliminating many of the practices that I was not comfortable with, adding a team of licensed and appropriately credentialed therapists, including a licensed, Ph.D. psychologist as clinical director and securing Joint Commission accreditation, the recognized gold standard of healthcare and therapeutic programs.  FFS was the 5th therapeutic boarding school in the country to achieve Joint Commission accreditation.  These resulted in significant changes and improvements in the school’s therapeutic programming, both through eliminating the practices that we can all agree needed to be removed, and adding in clinical/therapeutic protocols based on the standards established by the Joint Commission and those recognized as best practices by SAMHSA, APA and NASW.   The changes, of course, did not occur overnight, but we were progressively making these improvements and enhancements throughout my tenure.  Additionally, while in the role of Director of Admissions, I obtained certification as a trauma specialist (through the National Institute for Trauma & Loss in Children) and certification as an educational planner (through American Institute of Certified Education Planners).   

When Dr. Argiros asked me to step into the Director of Admissions role, she did so because she was seeking someone with advanced clinical education and experience to better match students with the program, an important first step to correct the process of accepting students that were not appropriately matched for the program.  She also asked and understood that I would help change the culture at the school, and be a watchdog for practices that would be putting students at risk.  Thus, my trauma certification to enhance my graduate degree in clinical psychology became extremely helpful.  Although the Argiros family decided to close the school, we were at that time developing a trauma-informed staff curriculum.

To address a few of the statements made in some on-line forums that are blatantly false:


  • The school’s enrollment was active even at the decision point to close. I, in fact, had a family arriving that same day and cancelled five more scheduled enrollments.
  • The school was regularly audited and inspected by external parties, including state agencies, the NYS Department of Education (through whom the school had the charter to operate a school) and the Joint Commission.  These reports are public record.
  • When the school changed its name, it published openly, repeating and clearly that they were formerly The Family Foundation School (as I did even on this blog).  There was no effort to hide under a new name.  They published this fact on their web-site and published literature, and throughout the campus that we were formerly The Family Foundation School.
  • The pointed attention to me personally is misguided as I had no ownership in the school. As I said, my input was heard (not always heeded) but I am proud that through my efforts as well as others, the owners did make the changes I identified above.
  • The number of students in residence (boarding) at the school was intentionally lowered as standards of care and service improved.  It was not possible to provide the level of care and service promised when enrollments were over 100 students (the school had 250 students at it height, a few years following my becoming admissions director).  But, I advocated for a lower student census so we could provide the personal and individualized care that students needed.  So, although it is often said that the school closed because enrollments dropped to 70 – that is simply not true.  The school set enrollment limits not to exceed 70 students, matching with the clinical and services they had.

The Family Foundation School/Allynwood Academy serves as a great example of meaningful change that can be made improving the care and treatment of youth in residential settings. I am proud of the role I played in initiating, leading and advancing those changes.

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Help Blog Revived

How time flies – it’s been 2½ years!  So much has happened, but the blog is best to provide meaningful help and resources to families seeking to help their struggling son or daughter.

Here is a brief recap:

The Family Foundation School/Allynwood Academy closed in July, 2014. The owners, the Argiros family, decided to close after 30 years in business.  Unfortunately, the schools’ founder Tony Argiros was in seriously declining health (and died in August, 2014).  Mike, Annie and Rita, the three adult children of Betty and Tony Argiros, who returned to the school with their spouses to take on leadership roles, had successfully navigated the school from harsh and often abusive practices to a legitimate, Joint Commission accredit therapeutic boarding school with national reputation (and even international with the invitation to present at a conference in London and present to the House of Commons). Yet, they each felt drawn to pursue other interests and careers.  Rita and Sid wanted to retire (unfortunately Rita passed away about a year following the school’s closure as she and Sid were building their retirement home).  Mike and Cindy, and Annie and Gerald pursued other career interests.  The school’s campus was sold to the neighbor French Woods Performing Arts Camp who now uses the campus as an adjunct sports camp.  The closing was a difficult process for all – but the ways the students came together, honored and paid tribute to the legacy was truly a moving experience. Rita decided to stay on through the end of the year to continue to provide educational support to students who had difficulty finding alternative placements, or those who would be unduly harmed by abruptly changing schools.  Many reputable private therapeutic schools have closed since, most with only a few days notice.  None demonstrated the commitment that Rita and the Argiros family did to the students in their care.

I went on to work for Daytop New Jersey (helping with program enhancement, admissions, marketing and developing their new web-site) and High Focus Centers.  In the latter role, I developed an innovative, new emerging adult treatment and transition program called Waypointe.  I have continued to work directly with youth with social skill challenges leading the Friends Group, a therapeutic youth group I founded 20 years ago. I also continue to work with children and families providing in home behavior and trauma support through the Mental Health Association, and provide educational help and support to families through Celebrate Success Consulting.  I also have worked with local school districts providing in-home therapeutic and school transitional services to students with significant emotional disabilities.

Enough about me – now onto more topics.

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Alynwood Academy checklist for parents highlighted in Teen Life publication


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Allynwood Academy at Carnegie Hall

Allynwood Academy’s music director, Paul Geer, will lead the Golden Hat Foundation choir on November 16 at the world-renowned Carnegie Hall in New York City. The celebrity fundraising event supports actress Kate Winslet’s Golden Hat Foundation, which celebrates the intellectual capabilities of people with autism. The concert will also feature performances by the 2013 America’s Got Talent finalist group “Forte,” internationally acclaimed vocalist Nathan Pacheco, and internet sensation Nick Pitera. The Montclair State University Symphony Orchestra will accompany the concert’s mass choir.

The concert’s producer, Tim Janis, a celebrated American composer, selected Paul Geer to lead the mass choir in early September. Paul and Tim’s professional ties include PBS specials and Carnegie Hall events, including the world premiere of “The Christmas Rose,” which made its debut at Allynwood in 2011. Tim continues to involve Paul with these high profile concerts because of his outstanding musicianship, choral methods, and innate ability to bring vocalists together in a short period of time. “It is such an honor and joy to work with Paul,” said Elizabeth Demmer, management director for the Tim Janis Ensemble.

Allynwood Academy’s choir will join high school choirs from across the country for the event. Participating choirs will be recognized by the Golden Hat Foundation for lending their talent and support to the cause.

Tim Janis has sold millions of albums, performed in five nationally televised specials, and has released 10 Billboard-charting CDs. Janis has worked with some of the top artists in the music and entertainment industries — including Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Ray Charles, George Clooney, and James Earl Jones. Tim’s music is often mission oriented and serves as a vehicle to support an array of charitable causes.

The Golden Hat Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating barriers for people with autism worldwide and creating an environment that maximizes their potential. Its goal is to establish innovative campuses that offer a supportive network for people with autism to gain educational and career training. The foundation recognizes that in a caring and individualized setting, people with autism can truly realize their dreams.

The “Music of Hope” benefit concert will begin at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 16 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Use the promo code GOL18260 to receive 30% off ticket prices (offer valid 10/18 – 10/21 only). 100% of all ticket sales will go to the Golden Hat Foundation.

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Allynwood Academy – details


Allynwood is committed to providing the best and most effective education, recovery and therapeutic services to our students and to maintain the highest ethical standards. To ensure adherence to professional best practices and standards, Allynwood is accredited through the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, as well as The Joint Commission.

Additionally, we are a member of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), the Association of Recovery Schools (ARS) and the Association of Independent School Admissions Professionals (AISAP).

About Allynwood:
At Allynwood, students join a community committed to learning about oneself, others and the world. Our motto, “Sapere Aude” (dare to be wise), invokes our emphasis on wisdom, literature and our belief that education provides a distinct mode for personal transformation. Allynwood provides a college preparatory curriculum that each year successfully places our graduates in a wide range of colleges and universities across the country.

Additionally, Allynwood offers our students opportunities to experience the challenges and freedoms of college learning while at the same time receiving academic and therapeutic support. Students can take college courses on our campus and, when ready, can commute to the local community college and earn college credits while still in high school.

At Allynwood, students can participate in varsity level sports such as soccer, basketball, crosscountry, golf and baseball. Allynwood competes in Class D, Section IX in New York State high school athletics as part of the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA).

Some teams are exclusively comprised of Allynwood students, while others are in combination with the local high school, providing a unique opportunity to be integrated with local high school students.

Therapeutic support is available to all students at Allynwood depending on their individual needs. Credentialed therapists provide counseling with specific experience in adolescent issues and family counseling. Various therapeutic methods are used as directed by each student’s individual service plan and diagnoses, including cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

Allynwood is not a rehabilitation or drug treatment center, but we can help students make up their own minds about their substance use. Licensed clinicians use psychoeducation and motivational techniques to help students see themselves clearly and to motivate change.

Whether they work the 12-steps formally or not, working with their sponsor, students develop personal accountability and learn to take responsibility for relationship reparation.The self-awareness that emerges clarifies the boundaries between self and others, while engendering empathy and an open-mindedness towards spiritual exploration.
College Preparatory Programs (Grades 9-12) – leading to High School Diploma:

- Safety Platform: For students who need extra supervision, intervention and support

- Discovery Platform: For students who are open to learning about themselves and willing to experiment with new behaviors and beliefs

- Achievement Platform: Provides the highest level of freedom & independence

Additional Programs include:
- College Transition Program (Bridge)
- Canine-Human Attunement Training & Therapy (CHAT)
- Arts Courses
Bridge College Transition Program:

The Bridge program is a recoverybased college transition program for young adults ages 17–20. It provides individualized support for students transitioning from a therapeutic setting who need academic, therapeutic and/or recovery support as they begin their college experience.

The Bridge is appropriate for students who have experienced difficulty completing high school or getting into college or those who have been discharged or dropped out of college and wish to have a second start.

Bridge students live in premier college student housing in Binghamton, N.Y. and are enrolled in the local community college, SUNY Delhi or Binghamton University. They are learning to live independently and manage the challenges of college life while receiving individualized academic, therapeutic, case management and recovery support.

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More than a name change – Allynwood Academy

What has changed?
• Lower and tiered tuition structure – costs decrease as a student moves from platform to platform. As students successfully manage incremental increases in freedom, choice and independence, tuition costs decrease as students need less structure and support. New tuition structure attached.
• Addition of the Achievement Platform which provides a traditional boarding school experience as part of our student’s transitional experience toward independence.
• Addition of the Safety Platform with significantly increased structure and support for new students needing an intensive level of attention as they begin their therapeutic journey.
• Enhanced transitional opportunities for students to experience new and growth challenging freedoms, choice and independence to help our students prepare for life “in the real world”
• Canine-Human Attunement Training & Therapy (CHAT®) – builds upon current canine learning theory, human and canine brain science and the groundbreaking work of Beebe et. that provides coursework and experiential learning opportunities to address a number of issues, particular those related to trauma and addiction.
Read more about these changes at http://allynwoodacademy.uberflip.com/i/186516 or attached.

What has stayed the same?
• Exceptional college-preparatory curriculum and stimulating learning environment
• Individual, group and family therapy with licensed clinicians
• Relational model including family living and positive peer support
• Individualized service planning for each student
• Special education learning support
• 12-step sponsors and support for spiritual exploration
• Award winning music, art and journalism opportunities
• Interscholastic athletic programs
• The Bridge – premier college transition program that combines personal guidance with academic, therapeutic and recovery support to help students successfully navigate passage to college.

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Introducing Allynwood Academy

Review our new brochure at http://allynwoodacademy.uberflip.com/i/186516.

Allynwood Academy, a name which corresponds to our new program design, will provide three different platforms of structure, choices, privileges and freedoms to meet the needs of our students both when they begin their journey at the school and as they grow and mature toward responsible independence. The Safety Platform provides intensive levels of structure, supervision and support to those students who do not yet have adequate self-regulation and coping skills. Its serves as a stabilization and assessment opportunity for new students who need that level of intervention. The Discovery Platform (with multiple sub-phases) provides decreasing levels of structure and increasing challenge to students as they learn, apply and strengthen new skills. The Achievement Platform is the most self-directed, providing a traditional boarding school experience. We anticipate that as student’s progress from one stage to the next, the tuition cost will decrease as they need less support and services. This new design will provide students with incentives for change as well as definable markers for their growth and maturity.

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Can I trust the admissions director?

Most parents recognize that quality schools and programs have independent oversight from either licensing or accrediting organizations (depending on state), and that provides some measure of confidence that the school is adhering to established standards of professional best practice and ethics.  But many parents are not aware that similar to licensed or credentialed clinicians, there are ethical and professional standards for admissions offices and admissions professionals.  Parents should inquire and know about the professional training, credentialing and professional organizational standards that their admissions professional ascribes to as it provides a second layer of assurance that he or she is also operating within the bounds of professional boundaries and standards.

My own personal pursuit of these standards, in addition to my educational credentials, have brought me to three important organizations.

1.  AISAP – Association of Independent School Admission Professionals.  This selective member organization not only provides intensive training, but also establishes the “Standards and Competencies for Admission and Enrollment Management Professionals”.  These are available for review at http://www.aisap.org/page.cfm?p=4129.

2. AICEP – American Institute of Certified Education Planners.  This organization certifies admission professionals and other professionals who are guiding parents such as educational consultants through a rigorous testing process to ensure knowledge and competency in matching students to the appropriate level of care. (www.aicep.org)

3. Organizational membership in NATSAP – The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs.  This professional organization sets guidelines not only for member organizations, but also for the marketing, advertising and admissions practices. (http://natsap.org/principles-of-good-practice ).

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