Family Foundation School / Allynwood Academy
CLOSED (August 2014)


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Fay Leff

I'm going to attempt to make this as cohesive as possible; however, i find i have trouble remembering lots from my short stay at the Family Foundation School (FFS), much seems to be blocked out in my mind.

During my stay at FFS, I remember on several occasions witnessing students being restrained by other students (at the direction of staff) and being carried off to the isolation room. I remember a time when a new girl with bulimia was restrained by students while one staff member yelled in her face during dinner. One of the saddest things I can recall there was a young female student telling me about how she was a lesbian before FFS and had a girlfriend, but how she now realized how wrong that was. The idea that the school convinced her this was immoral and belittled entirely the feelings she had had for this other woman blew my mind.

I stayed quiet during most of my stay at FFS, and luckily did not experience any of the physical abuses first hand. However one cannot deny the emotional HELL of living in this environment. One of the rules I struggled with the most while there was not being allowed to journal. No journaling! A proven, well used, standard therapeutic practice was not allowed! Because we were never allowed to speak our minds without fear of punishment, I began to feel like a prisoner in my own head. I remember waiting to use the bathroom all night so that I could use the small bathroom in our trailer/dorm JUST so I would have a few moments to myself to think. On a spiritual retreat, I actually got in trouble for journaling! I’ve gone back and read these small journals I wrote… and it’s like I don’t even know the person that wrote them. I’ve found inventory lists I had to write while there of all the things we had done wrong, and I don’t even know what I was talking about in half of the items. I just knew I had to fill up that page with something.

Even after leaving the school, the emotional abuse still haunted me. I had dreams for months, and continue to still have some to this day, of being sent back, kicking and screaming, telling anyone that will listen that I am 18 now and they can’t send me back, and then being told due to some loophole, they can. When I first returned to my high school after FFS, I had many problems socially. I had always been an outgoing person and found I had a hard time fitting back into normal life. I had no idea how to talk to boys, because while at the school we weren’t even allowed to look a boy in the eye! I would shy away from my boyfriend and even wait till he left the room to change as quickly as possible so he would not see my body (even though he had before). I had to re-learn how to hug, be affectionate, etc. I was only at FFS 6 months; I can’t even imagine how long it took someone who was there the recommended 18 months to re-adjust to regular life.

FFS claims that things have changed, and that the school we all remember is not how it is today. However, there’s no real way for anyone to know that give the current situation. Students are not given contact info for any child advocates. All phone calls and letters are closely monitored. Students are forbidden any contact with the world outside of FFS. Even if visitors or parents come to visit, students were never allowed to say anything of what was going on without being accused of trying to manipulate their parents to get out of the program, and then get punished for trying. Many people like me just didn’t say anything cause it was easier to lay low and stay out of trouble. If these practices are still ongoing at the school today, there will never be any way for any outsiders to know what is really going on in the school.

To my knowledge, no one I came in contact with during my stay at FFS had a PhD or doctorate. I believe there was a psychologist associated with the school that was supposed to meet with all of us, but in my stay I never talked to such a person. In total in 6 months I believe I had 2 family ‘sessions’ with Susan Runge, and maybe one or 2 alone with her though I can’t remember for sure. Our group therapy “class’ was a joke. Even their website says that they put less emphasis on master’s level clinicians than on peer therapy… how can this be best? Seems to me for the enormous amount paid by parents for this program, therapy of any kind should never be run by a social worker alone, but always have a practicing, licensed Psychologist present.

While I’ve been told the quality of education at the school was pretty good (especially in comparison to some programs!), as someone who was already an over-achieving student, I found the classes boring and under stimulating. Prior to FFS, I had been an A student in all honors level classes at my high school. When I came to FFS, I was forced to repeat all of my junior year classes. This was because I was pulled from my high school in May by my parents at the direction of the school (even though their next school year didn’t start till June). Because I missed the last month of class at my high school, none of those classes counted. When I repeated the classes at FFS, they did not have a honors program, so I was dropped down to a college prep level class, except for my pre-calc class. While we were learning the same material as I had before, I found that it was no where near as challenging. Everything felt very ‘dumbed down’ and moved at a slow pace. While I understand most kids attending FFS were not good students at home, and probably needed this form of instruction, the school provided nothing for those that were excellent students. To me, the education I received while there was meaningless.

The biggest problem I found during my stay at FFS was the oversights of their admissions process. As mentioned, I was an A student. I did not get in trouble in school; all of my teachers loved me. I did not drink. I did not do drugs. I was not sexually promiscuous. I did not have an eating disorder. I had previously been to 2 psychiatrists and one psychologist. I’ve since learned both told my parents that I was just normal healthy adolescent. Why then did FFS accept me as a student? Other than talking to my parents, no research was done on my background. No one at my high school was interviewed. None of my friends’ parents were called. No one spoke to my previous therapists. As I’ve grown up and matured, I’ve realized that most of my problems with my parents were due to my mother’s unhealthy mental diseases. Because of the lack of background checks into whether a student even NEEDS to go to FFS, I was admitted solely based on the statements of a mental ill parent. Because of this, my adolescence was robbed from me. Because of this, I almost was not able to graduate high school when I returned. Because of this, I’m not even in my high school yearbook. And if anyone at FFS has done even a miniscule amount of research, all of this could have been prevented.

 

Fay Leff