My experience at family school was something that I had never seen before such as the way these students were treated such as verbally abusing the students at table topics, family leaders calling the student before them little lying shits, I was witness to kids being forced to eat some terrible food and throwing up at the table, and by the way the food at the family school was the lowest quality you could imagine. Most staff wouldn't even eat the food.
I was staff at the Family Foundation School for two and a half years. I
witnessed terrible verbal abuse such as calling a student a little lying shit, I also witnessed a teacher calling a group of
student all f--ks. I would cringe at table topics and feel embrassased
for these kids. Sitting in the corner was a usual practice which was
also a practice of East Ridge where many of the staff members are
originally from. I would watch kids actually throw up at the table
because they were being forced to eat food that was of such low grade
it was not fit for an animal many of the staff would not eat the food
themselves. I am now working at another school for high risk kids and
when I recently walked into the girls dorm, it was beaufitul, a place
young women would feel comfortable. The family school had the girls
living in trailers, the lowest cost for housing, I could not undestand
charging 50,000.00 a year and not supplying good food or lodging. I
think that by the time the parents come to a place for help they are
not thinking clearly and truly are desperate
When one of my kids needed to see a nurse it was always a major production in the sense that most of the time the nurses thought the kids were lying, I was persistent in having them checked out. I met some teachers who were truly dedicated and myself being one of them. Others who did not care and would say things like if the kid is opening his mouth he is lying I truly loved and respected my students. I think the administration is very old fashioned and puritanical in their methods and do follow much of what was being taught at East Ridge. My suggestion to any parent looking into a boarding school for high kids should be very careful. Bring others with you who can be more objective. This is a very difficult time for you and your child and you want to make sure you are making the right decision.
Finally, most of the administration and staff were not practicing what they preached. As far as the twelve step program many did not go to meetings and they themselves were struggling with alcohol and drug addiction.
The dorms were basically run down trailers, where heat and air conditioning were always malfunctioning. I am working at another boarding school and was so surprised to see dorms that looked like normal living environments. The family charges $50,000.00 a year where does this money go it surely was not paying staff members or serving edible food or providing decent housing.
A lot of the administration live on the property in very nice homes where did that money come from?
I also saw students being forced to stay in the time out room sometimes these kids would actually relieve themselves in the time out room.
We were all forced to pray christian prayers whether you were catholic or not. I would like to say to the parents who are considering a boarding school to be very careful, you are at the end of your rope as well as your child, and don't need to be pushed any further .
Many of the staff have been affiliated with the East Ridge cult,
the people at east ridge are still putting grown men in the corner.
My name is Grace Cole, I attended the Family Foundation School From 1999-2000, and I came back to work in the summer of 2003. I only worked at the FFS for about five or six weeks.
Many staff did not want me to work there. This is because I left the
school on bad terms when I turned eighteen. My life went really well
post FFS, despite the fact that the staff had said I would fail
miserably in the real world. I never belonged at the FFS in the first
place; I came from a very troubled, violent home. I knew I wasn?t an
addict, even though the FFS said I was one. I did learn a few things at
the FFS though and was able to apply parts of the 12 steps to my life.
I was not allowed on the FFS campus for quite a while because of my
decision to leave on my 18th. I felt an urge to go back and work there
though, I can?t really explain why. Part of me wanted to help the
students improve their lives, part of me wanted to see what really went
on behind the scenes up there, and part of it was Stockholm syndrome-I
felt like I need to prove something to those that had mistreated me. My
feelings towards the FFS were a love/hate. I believed in the 12 steps,
but I never agreed with the FFS methods.
Anyway, Tom Musgrove hired me. He was surprised that I had turned out so well. He was very decent to me during our phone conversations and said it would be great if I came there to work. I was able to speak to Mike Argiros on the phone as well. He said it would be great for me to work there, but I needed to make it clear to current students that leaving on my 18th was a big mistake and that I had suffered hardships because of that choice. I agreed with him verbally, but inside I knew that leaving had been the best choice.
Many staff were very rude to me that summer. Mary Musgrove told me on
my first day that I would not be able to handle the job. She also told
me not to tell current students about leaving on my 18th birthday. I
guess she thought it would be a bad example. She also got in my face
and said that she heard I had been running wild for the past three
years. I told her actually I had been doing really well and that I had
no idea what she was talking about. She just kept glaring at me. She
just couldn't accept the fact that my life had gone in the opposite
direction than what she had "prophesized"
Just to make things clear, I was in Mary Musgrove's Family for my entire stay (Family 4). She made my life miserable; she was my sponsor for my last part of the stay. You can read more about that in my student testimony.
Other staff that were rude to me were Ed Becker, Ted Towsley, Renee
Gothardt, J.B(Jon Broce), Donna Broce, Joe Petriella, Jackie Petriella,
Cindy Patrisso and some guy named Thomas(don?t know last name).
I tried to strike up conversations with J.B and his wife. They would not even look me in the eye (they were both in Family 4 while I was a student). J.B said he had no desire to talk to me since I had left on my 18th b-day, he also said that the staff didn't even want me in the school. Cindy kept her nose up in there air when I tried to be polite to her too. Ed Becker came right up to my face on my first day of employment and said you are really going to have to prove yourself Grace Cole. You left on your birthday and screwed us over; you think you can just come back in here like that didn't happen?. Ed had been someone who was particularly hard on me during my work sanction days. He called me a "bitch" and made me scrub mold off the kitchen walls all day.
My first week of employment was during summer break, and there was very little yelling. I was put in Family 4. They were in the process of changing family leaders. Mary and Tom Musgrove were being moved down from the position of family leaders and Jackie and Joe were taking over family 4. Mary was an emotional wreck over the whole thing and told me that she didn?t think anyone liked her anymore. I always for the vibe that she had low self esteem, and that that was why she loved to pick on me so much.
During my first meal Myron invited me to sit at the staff table. Mary Musgrove yelled so everyone could hear don't ever let her sit on the staff table, she hasn't earned it, she can sit with the kids. That was very rude and embarrassing of her. She seemed very resentful with me being there. Myron told me to sit with staff anyway. Later that day I told Mary I would like to speak with her in private. I told her to not ever embarrass me like that again, that I believed she was a very resentful woman. I told her exactly what I thought of her, and she about cried. She told me that she would never mistreat me again. She seems to be a very unstable person.
When I sat down to eat a student asked me what portion I wanted. I said I just wanted the soup. Then Mary M. told me that you either eat everything that is served or nothing. Staff was not even allowed to pick and choose what they wanted to eat. She told me that was the rule now; students and staff eat the same thing. I pictured myself gaining thirty pounds again and cringed.
I worked in the laundry room for the summer. Tim Ellis' daughter worked down there with me (can't remember her name). I felt like a student again. After all the laundry was done I had to go through each bag and make sure the clothes were dry, even after the students checked it. If anything wet showed up in the dorms that night, it fell back on me. Rita even pulled me into the office and said I was lazy on laundry crew and that if anyone got wet clothes back it would fall on me.
Tim Ellis' daughter seemed spiteful to the boys. Sometimes there would be about fifteen boys down there and the laundry would be done. I would tell them to go to study hall, and she would make them stay and clean anyway. She would have them clean the same thing over and over again even if it was already clean. All of this was very unnecessary.
There was a staff in our family named Tomas. He was in his fifties. He kept pestering me to hang out with him on our days off. He was very pushy about it. One day in the kitchen he pushed me very hard and I fell forward. This was right after I told him I didn't want to hang out. He sponsored this one kid (I will not mention his name out of respect for privacy), and decided he was going to bring him up. Thomas told me that he was going to bring up, but hen he said that the kid didn't even do anything, he just wanted to bring him up for laughs. Then he called the kid up and slammed him. The poor guy looked so confused, and I couldn't even do anything because you can?t go against other staff. I also had female students complain to me that Thomas made them uncomfortable. I had a talk with Rita about it, and he was fired.
There was another table topic that really bothered me. One of the
students was about to graduate and had started looking into colleges.
His mother came to take him out for college visits one day. He
expressed that he wanted to go to a college for photography, but his
mother was dead set against it. She told the table that he would
relapse if he went to school with a bunch of art hippies and we should
talk him in to a small private catholic college. All 30 or so kids and
5 staff berated him for a half an hour, all because he wouldn't go to
his mother's dream college.
Several recent alumni were working with me that summer. A couple of the males went down to that French Woods bar and flirted with some female counselors. They were fired. I was pulled in the office by Rita and Robin and made aware of the situation. They asked me if I knew that guys had been smoking cigarettes and flirting with girls. I didn't even know you couldn't smoke when you weren't at work. I was told I thought they were cute and that I was covering up for them because I liked them. Rita and Robin said that I had a negative contract with them.
I became very paranoid that summer. I always felt like I was being spied on. Family 4 had staff meetings in which we were confronted like we were at the table. I was told that male students were complaining that I was flirting with them. I know I wasn't flirting, but whatever. I was slammed for letting the girls stay up an extra two minutes. I was told I was using the girls for my own benefit when I let a couple of them wax my eyebrows. I know that Jackie and Joe DID NOT WANT ME working there.
The biggest thing that happened all summer was during one of the meals.
There was some fruits cups with some very disgusting cream on top was
being served for dinner. Part way through the meal five kids starting
throwing up, it was crazy! I didn't make them stop, but the other staff
did. They were made to eat their food, even if there was throw up in
it. The next day I had a staff meeting where I was confronted for
trying to instill order and allowing the kids to get away with
?nonsense?. This meeting was with Renee G., Jackie, and Darlene. They
went on and on about what a terrible staff I was and how I had been a
case while I was a student. I knew right then that I didn't want to
work there anymore.
I went on retreat one weekend with Father Stephen. This was during my
days off, so I thought I would just enjoy myself and relax and pray. I
worked sixty hours that week and was really worn out. Father Stephen
was showing us a Mother Teresa Video and I dozed off for a few minutes.
When I woke up he was glaring at me. He glared at me for the rest of
the movie. Afterward, he pulled me aside and said that I was spreading
my legs towards him and being inappropriate. If I was it was an
accident. I told him over and over again how sorry I was and that I was
exhausted. He said there were no excused to fall and asleep. He lecture
went on and on about inappropriate I was and that I was a bad example.
I felt so humiliated and ashamed that night.
I also want to mention something that has always made me wonder. As most people know, many of the FFS were once involved in East Ridge, a therapeutic commune. I had plans to visit East Ridge and see what it was like. I asked Jan Cheripko about visiting the place. He sat me down and begged me not to go. He had Robin Ducey speak to me about it too. She begged me not to visit the place. They showed genuine concern and worry. They told me that East Ridge might suck in a young spiritual seeker like myself. They would not tell me how to get up there or any deep things about the place. They seemed to think it wasn't a healthy place to be. They wouldn't say anything else about it.
I wanted to quit even though I had two more weeks to go up there. I was
getting so sick of the Family Foundation School. I got into a talk with
a janitor while I was leaving work one night. He told me that he
couldn't stand the way staff talked to the kids. He said that there was
something seriously wrong with FFS, but he didn't know what to do. I
agreed with him.
I also want to mention that a cop pulled me over one night. He said my
music was too loud. I apologized and told him that I worked at the FFS.
He smiled and let go with no ticket. He also told me that he and his
staff chased runaways.
I quit working at the FFS before my time was up. I had had enough of
that place. I was stressed out all summer and treated like trash my
many of the staff. I did have a few positive experiences though. I
became friends with several staff who were not there while I was a
student. I was able to give some helpful advice to a few students. I
was sad that FFS would not let me get their phone numbers before I
quit. I tried to come back and visit that fall, but wasn't allowed. I
was told that I was untrustworthy.
For the protection of our supporters and as requested by this staff member, we are not releasing this Family School staff member's name. The staff expressed concern over not being able to have a professional reference if The Family Foundation School administration learned of this testimonial, but felt it was important to publicize the truth behind the abusive practices. The identity of this staff member who wrote the testimonial below has been verified and confirmed by the campaign team.
Tony and Betty Argiros founded the Family Foundation School. Their children Rita and Mike Argiros now run it. It's my understanding that they are trying to make FFS more tolerant, less rigid and less willing to condone the abusive behavior of some of its staff members. I applaud the effort, but it is an uphill battle. There is an entrenched culture and power structure at FFS that is philosophically committed to a worldview straight out of Pre-Vatican II Catholicism. The Family School Canon is so regressive in its worldview that students are publicly berated for masturbating. Tellingly, it's not called masturbating at FFS. It's called "being impure." I am not kidding.
I was employed at the Family School for several years. It was a place of severe rigidity, excessive religiosity and profound intolerance. It was also a place that gave its staff members so much power over the lives of the students that abuse was inevitable.
Any staff member could make any student do virtually anything at any time. I remember a senior staff member who used to tell the students that if a staff member told them to go jump in the pond and they (the student) disagreed with that order they could come talk to him about it. That he, the senior staff member, would certainly entertain the student's objections ---- BUT they better be wet when they came to him.
The message was clear, students were to accede to staff members commands at all times, that these commands could be made for any reason or for no reason at all.
Most of the time this power was not abused. Most of the staff was good people, truly concerned with the long-term best interest of the student. Many were kind. Some were tolerant.
But there were certainly staff members who were not kind or tolerant. There were quite a few who were honestly on a power trip. There were those who had untreated or inappropriately treated psychological problems. And there were staff members who were religious ideologues, so committed to a rigid worldview that any dissent was treated as an attack.
The entrenched power structure at the Family School is philosophically grounded in a Christian Cult called East Ridge. It is an extremely ascetic, severe group of fundamentalist Christians. Jan Cheripko, Mike and Robin Ducey and Chris Stein are all former residents of East Ridge. They may have left the community, but they retain its certainty that their worldview is correct and that all others are wrong. Because of this, they are often hostile to students who do not fit their Catholic, heterosexual model.
It was an open secret among the staff at the Family School that non-Catholics were generally treated more harshly than Catholics, especially in Families 1 and 2. And, not surprisingly, gay students were also subject to a good deal of homophobic verbal abuse. Again, this was especially true in families 1 and 2. Family 1 was headed by Mike and Robin Ducey, who were former residents of East Ridge. Family 2 was headed by Mike and Roxi Losicco, who were Catholic Ideologues.
There was a student in Family 1 who was not Catholic. The student was, it seemed to me, persistently on exile. I had been at the family school for a long time at that point and had had many interactions with this student. The student in question didn't seem particularly intractable to me. I asked a fellow staff member who was also in Family 1 what the student had done that was so bad. Tellingly, the fellow staff member simply said that all the student had really done was getting put into the wrong family. Mike and Robin Ducey were well known to be particularly harsh Family Leaders.
Among the traits the family school sought to cultivate, two are paramount: obedience and religiosity. This is consistent with the East Ridge mindset. But the former residents of East Ridge are not the only ones with this mindset. There are a plethora of kindred spirits employed at the family school.
It is this outlook that allows staff to engage in some of the harsher behaviors I saw there. Most of the time these harsh behaviors took the form of verbal abuse, public humiliation or excessive sanctions.
Please understand that I am confirming a good deal of the mistreatment claimed by former students but that I also want to assert that most of the time students were not mistreated. It is true that many staff members, myself included, sometimes spoke harshly to students. But those harsh words were often spoken in response to student misdeeds. While there were certainly LOTS of students who were inappropriately placed, the truth is that most of the students were sent to the Family School for good reason. Most of the students there were kids who had skipped school, used drugs, dealt drugs, stolen from others, lied and were abusive to their families. Most were only in trouble with their families and school districts, but some were in trouble with the law. Some were thieves, drug dealers, rapists.
The harshest words I have ever spoken in my life were to a student who had sexually abused a younger sibling. In the 3 years I knew this student s/he NEVER expressed regret or even acknowledged that regret was appropriate. The only emotion I ever heard from this teen was anger that s/he was subject to Meagan's Law.
As harsh as those words were, I do not believe that they were abuse. But I did occasionally hear staff members cross the line from deserved harsh words to verbal abuse. While not rare, verbal abuse was also not uncommon at the Family School.
Verbal abuse often took place during table topics. Staff was free to unleash the most vituperative, malicious diatribes I have ever heard. Not all staff took the opportunity to do so, in fact, most did not. But the few who did were enough.
Moreover, of the staff that did so, they did not do so all the time. It depended not only on the issue at hand, but also on the staff member's mood, personal history and estimation of the student in question. And it depended on the staff members' belief system. It is my experience that the staff members who were ideologues spewed the most venom. Often the diatribes bordered on abuse; sometimes they crossed over and were clearly verbal abuse.
Students were also subject to public humiliation at table topics, especially when the table topic dealt with masturbation or other sexual issues. They were forced to admit very private things in a very public venue.
The thing was that table topics had the potential to be a very healing and enlightening experience for teens at risk. They could have been an opportunity to discuss issues with courage and honesty and receive appropriate feedback. It could have been helpful in exactly the same way 12 step meetings are helpful. Sometimes that was the case; sometimes students reached a sense of insight or therapeutic relief from their table topics. Often though, this was not the case, and students nearly always dreaded being called up for a table topic.
The school utilized a variety of sanctions to change a student's behavior. These sanctions varied widely according to the student's behavior and the inclination and creativity of the staff member imposing the sanction. If a student was thought to be taking too much care with their appearance, they would be put on "poverty," which meant that they had to wear sweats and could not wear jewelry. If a student took too little care with their appearance they might be put on "dress up," which meant that they had to dress up every day.
There were also announcement sanctions. A student on an announcement sanction had to make a certain announcement at the beginning of each class. Sometimes these were relatively benign and amusing. There was a teacher at the school who required students to bring two pens to class. If they did not do so they were on sanction whereby they had to sing "2 Pens, 2 pens, on these we must depend" at the beginning of each class for the next day or two.
Or an announcement sanction could be humiliating. I know of many students who had to stand up in front of every class and announce their name and that they were a liar, or a thief, or arrogant or lazy or what have you.
Sanctions could also center around social isolation. The least of these was being placed in the corner, whereby a student could not participate in the social interactions of the family, and could only interact with a limited number of people. The most severe of these was called "exile." A student in exile could only speak to his or her sponsor and had to stand outside of the dining/living room area in an unheated hallway. In upstate NY this hallway could get very cold. Students on exile often spent several hours in the unheated hallway.
Sometimes food was used as a form of punishment, especially if the student's behavior was considered disobedient. The milder forms of food punishment included no sweets and no condiments. But students could also be forced to eat 'alternative food.'
If a student was placed on alternative food then she or he did not receive the same food as everyone else. Instead they received small portions of Maypo for breakfast and tuna (now soy burgers) on untoasted english muffins for lunch and dinner. Students on alternative food lost weight very quickly, especially if they were also on Work Sanction, which I'll discuss later.
One of the rules at the Family school was that every student had to finish everything on their plate at every meal. By the time I was there allowances were made for food allergies, but no allowances were made for personal preference or religious practices. Observant Jewish and Muslim students were routinely forced to eat pork.
If a student did not eat everything on his or her plate then the uneaten portion of the meal would be wrapped up, refrigerated and served to him/her for the next meal. If they didn't eat it then it would be wrapped up, refrigerated and served to him/her the meal after that. And so on. This would go on until the student relented and ate the food in question.
When I was at the family school an observant student was forced to eat pork. The student initially refused the pork on religious grounds. S/he was then served the pork every meal for the next several days. The student was not provided with any other form of nutrition.
Several days later the student relented and ate the pork. This amounted to forcing the student to violate the tenets of his/her faith --- a tenet the student in question had previously upheld.
This particular incident began as I was beginning my weekend (family school staff worked either tues-sat or sun-thurs). When I got to school after my weekend and found out about it I was aghast. I was also told by senior staff that the student's mother had signed off on this, so it was fine.
That didn't seem right to me and I made several phone calls after work to check on it. This was before cell phones were ubiquitous and I had to wait until I got home to make the phone calls. I contacted the authorities and was told that since the student was in no immediate physical danger I would have to call back during regular business hours. The next day the student in question ate the pork, and the point became moot.
That incident was the last straw. As much as I loved helping the students we did help, I could no longer stand to participate in an institution that allowed such abuse. A few days later I began looking for another job.
The most serious sanction at the Family School was called "Work Sanction." A student on work sanction was pulled out of classes and spent their days in manual labor. The labor was sometimes pointed towards building or repairing some structure, but was often not pointed toward any end except making the student engage in mindless, repetitive physical labor. During the warm weather students would move rocks from one pile to another. During the cold weather they would move snow from one pile to another. It was about hard, physical labor, and students on work sanction often lost weight, that weight loss was often accelerated if the student was also on the alternative food sanction.
Students on work sanction were still held responsible for their normal studies, and always failed their courses.
Students who were emotionally uncooperative were often put on work sanction. And, just as with everything else, the degree to which uncooperative behavior merited work sanction was extremely subjective. Some families were known to be extremely reticent to put students on work sanction. Others did so with ease. Families One and Two had a reputation for putting students on work sanction more easily than other Families. They were also known for keeping students on work sanction longer than other students. Not surprisingly, Families One and Two were headed by religious ideologues. Family one was headed by Mike and Robin Ducey, Family two by Mike and Roxi Lossico.
As a staff member, I was given training in methods of safely restraining students who were acting out. I was called upon to use those techniques twice. If a student is actively resisting the restraint then it is very difficult to avoid applying the kind of pressure, which could harm the student. If a student is not resisting the restraint then there is no need or excuse for excessive force.
I have read many of the testimonies of FFS alumni. I also know many of the security personnel at the school (collectively called "Senior Floor"). These were generally large, strong men and women. Many alumni claim that excessive force was used when they were not resisting restraint. While it is true that there is a sort of "fog of war" that takes place during a restraint, it is also true that it is obvious when a student is not resistant. I do believe that at least some of the security staff were abusive to students they restrained during the restraint.
I also believe that, at least some of the time, security personnel were abusive during a student's stay in the unheated isolation room. I was not part of security so I never participated in isolation, but I knew when one happened. I cannot testify to the truth or falsity of alumni claims that they were often denied heat, appropriate clothing, food or access to sanitary conditions. But I can say that, as a former staff member, these claims ring true to me. I believe them.
Of further concern to me is the way the 12-step model was routinely applied to any and all problems. The 12 Step model works extremely well for people who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. Most of the students at FFS were addicts and/or alcoholics, but not all of them. After all, not problem teens are addicts. Many have other issues, issues that are not addressed by a 12-step program. During my time at FFS I saw lots of teens who either were made to think of themselves as addicts, or who decided to play the game by saying that they were addicts.
The 12 step model was the only therapeutic model employed by FFS. If a student was not obviously a drug addict or alcoholic he or she was labeled a 'sex addict,' or an 'anger addict' or a 'food addict.' There was always something to which a student was addicted. The upshot of this was that appropriate care was often delayed until a student left FFS. In the meanwhile a student's problem or problems were ignored. Often, a student would adopt the moniker of addict so that they could fit in at FFS.
This, to me, is a less obvious wrong, but still a wrong nonetheless. It too constitutes a type of abuse.
All of this detracts mightily from the good work that the Family School really does do. There are literally hundreds of students who claim that their time in the Family School saved their lives. I am in contact with many former students and an equal number of them feel they were abused by FFS as feel they were saved by FFS. Some feel their experience amounts to a mix of both.
The Family School is a place of abuse wherein students are harmed AND the Family School is a place of love wherein students are saved. Both of those statements are true.