Shelterwood marks 20 years of academic accreditation

When a student completes coursework at an accredited school, those credits are transferrable to any other high school in the country. Especially for Shelterwood students, many of whom return to a home high school or continue on to higher education, accreditation makes all the difference. As Shelterwood Academy marks 20 years of accreditation, we explore why this is such a significant distinction.

Accreditation, explains Shelterwood Principal John Lawrence, is validation of Shelterwood’s academic program to any other educational organization. “Accreditation legitimizes what we’re doing here. AdvancedED is the governing body that backs us, saying our credits are valid and should be accepted elsewhere,” he says.

shelterwood candids16 1024x683 Shelterwood marks 20 years of academic accreditation

AdvancED (formerly North Central), with more than 100 years of work in school accreditation, AdvancED is unique in its commitment to not only certify a program, but help schools improve. In the accreditation assessment, Shelterwood was described as exceptional in our demonstration of standards, and exhibiting practices not commonly found in other schools.

Shelterwood was first accredited in 1996, John says. While the school is formally evaluated every five years, the AdvancED accreditation process is ongoing and improvement is continuous. “This is all about making changes to benefit students and always improve how we are educating them,” John says.

The accreditation process focuses on five key standards: purpose and direction, governance and leadership, teaching and assessing for learning, resources and support systems and using results for continuous improvement. The accreditation itself takes place over a two-day visit, with professionals from a variety of educational institutions on campus.

“They do everything from observations in the classroom, to interviews with teachers and faculty, to gathering parental input,” John explains, plus plenty of preliminary documentation and review.

“Because our accreditation commission comes to see what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, they can give us feedback, and challenge us on how to improve our school. We know what areas we need to work on for school improvement and how to help students in the classroom,” John says.

John, as well as several other teachers from Shelterwood, are also part of the AdvancED accreditation teams for other schools. “It is exciting for us to be able to share our expertise and also see how other institutions are improving.”

Accreditation benefits students long after they leave Shelterwood. John points to a student whose school back home in Texas was uncertain about accepting her Shelterwood credits. John simply contacted the state’s AdvancED representative, who facilitated the acquisition of the student’s credits. “It was because of AdvancED that the student was able to receive her full credits,” John says. “This made her transition back home far more seamless.”

“By continuing to make our school better through accreditation, we are helping students learn and grow,” John says. We’re proud of our commitment to accreditation and look forward to constant improvement. Accreditation is one more way that Shelterwood Academy provides an outstanding and valuable education for our students

What Does a Good Program Look Like?

Matching of Facility Resources and Family Needs
Once the difficult decision is made that residential treatment will be required parents face the formidable task of selecting among the myriad programs that advertise nationwide.

Like therapists, residential programs vary widely in their goals, their theoretical orientation and treatment paradigms, and the specific features of their treatment settings. Parents may gravitate toward the relative intimacy of four- to six-bed facilities housed within single-family residences or they may lean toward larger institutional facilities housing dozens of students on larger more complete campuses.

Residential treatment centers also vary widely in their geographic distribution, cost, emphasis on amenities, emphasis on group cohesiveness within the milieu, and length of stay. The expected or typical length of stay also varies widely among residential treatment programs. Many programs recommend minimum lengths of stay of between one and three months and some have lengths of stay that range from six months to two years or more.

We strongly encourage parents to seek out markers of quality and to ask many questions before committing to a particular program. There are no standardized or nationwide ratings of residential programs, and the process of evaluating programs is complicated by the fact that many facilities compete for the same pool of clients. Generally speaking, high-quality residential treatment programs will have in common the following characteristics:

Accreditation and/or licensure: High-quality residential facilities tend to subject themselves to scrutiny and oversight by state licensing authorities or other entities providing accreditation for healthcare organizations. Such licensing and accrediting authorities tend to require strict standards for evidence-based care, documentation, medication storage and handling, and other key aspects of residential care.

Fully credentialed staff: Practitioners who work in residential facilities must be sensitive not only to the dynamics of each individual client but also to group dynamics, the dynamics of conflicts between staff and clients and, perhaps most importantly, the often-subtle indications that a client may be struggling and in need of more intensive monitoring or even acute hospitalization. Less qualified programs will not only fail to recognize their inability to help the client but may be reluctant to release the teen to other levels of care due to the loss of financial stability. Be very wary of programs that are unwilling to refer clients to other programs and require long-term financial commitments.

High staffing ratio’s: Residential facilities with high staffing ratio’s respond well to the fluctuating levels of anxiety within the treatment milieu. Effective treatment programs have the ability provide more intensive monitoring (e.g., on a schedule of wellness checks every 30 minutes, every 15 minutes, or even continuous one-to-one observation) without disrupting the campus culture. Quality staff coverage not only protects the individual client but also helps ensure that the affective environment of the treatment milieu can be modulated and other clients can continue on safely and uninterrupted.

Ready access to urgent and emergency care facilities: Accidents happen and so do intentional acts of self-harm. Residential facilities that have working relationships with local hospitals and urgent care facilities are well positioned to transition clients in crisis to a higher level of care with a minimum of disruption to the milieu.

Actively participating in outcome studies:  The programs of highest quality will want to use scientifically based assessment tools to understand what aspects of their treatment are effective for various presenting problems.  Building an evidence based program is not easy and demonstrates a commitment to client feedback and growth.  Shelterwood is currently participating in a nation wide study that is sponsored by the National Association of Schools and Programs (NATSAP) and are in the process of receiving an endorsement for being an Evidence Based Program.

An aftercare strategy: Excellent programs begin planning for aftercare soon after admission, although in some cases this will be delayed by the need for diagnostic clarification. Outpatient therapists should always be included in the aftercare-planning process, and usually this inclusion can be accomplished by phone or e-mail without the need for therapists to attend meetings in person. According to research a small minority of clients elect to remain in contact with the therapists who treated them during their residential stay, but most patients do not. At Shelterwood, we are very proud of our life-long connection with former clients. Most students remain connected through social media and seek out support years after their stay with us.

The Best Residential Programs

Matching facility resources and student needs is critical – Here is what to look for

Once the decision is made to place a teen in a residential program, parents face the formidable task of selecting among the many facilities that advertise nationwide. A ‘good fit’ between the family and the residential facility is essential to optimize the chances of a favorable outcome.

Like therapists, residential facilities vary widely in their goals, their theoretical orientation and treatment paradigms, and the specific features of their treatment settings.   Therapeutic programs also very widely in their location, cost, amenities and lengths of stay.

We urge parents to seek out markers of quality and encourage them to ask a lot of questions before committing to a particular program. There are no standardized or nationwide ratings of residential programs, but generally speaking, high-quality residential treatment facilities will have the following characteristics in common:

  • Accreditation and/or licensure: The best residential programs tend to subject themselves to scrutiny and oversight by state licensing authorities. Such licensing and accrediting authorities require strict standards for evidence-based care, documentation, medication storage and handling, and other key aspects of residential care.
  • Fully credentialed staff: Staff who work in the best residential programs must be sensitive not only to the dynamics of each individual client, but also to group dynamics, the dynamics between staff and clients and, perhaps most importantly, the often-subtle indications that a client may be in need of more intensive programming or even hospitalization. Prior experience in inpatient facilities can be quite helpful for residential program staff members.
  • Ready access to urgent and emergency care facilities: Accidents happen and so do intentional acts of self-harm. The best residential programs that have working relationships with local hospitals and urgent care facilities are well positioned to transition patients in crisis to a higher level of care with less disruption.
  • Research orientated: Although costly and time consuming, research is critical to any top quality program. While most programs are founded by well-meaning individuals, many of these founders have created a philosophy and curriculum based on their own life experience. Research-based programming breaks through this bias and forces programs to adhere to the science of change. When programs make research a priority, parents are assured that the staff is focused on outcomes and the future success of their teen is highly valued.
  • Purpose driven: Whether it’s called a statement of faith, a mission statement, or something else, every program has an underlying basic philosophy that drives their program and treatment. This unifying purpose or value statement impacts whom they hire and how they will interact with the teens. It provides critical insight into the beliefs of a program and staff. Asking residential programs what they believe about the nature of man will help you understand the underlying philosophy of the program, which impacts how the program will go about creating change.   Unfortunately, most residential programs are unaware or naive regarding this larger philosophical question. But whether programs realize it or not, their beliefs have a significant and long lasting impact on the teens that they work with. Good programs should stay in touch with former students and will inadvertently continue to share their values long after the students have left. So ask the program what they believe about the nature of man, how people change, and if they recognize a higher power. We place our children in residential programs to be impacted and changed, so it stands to reason that understanding how this change is going to happen and what messages are going to be conveyed is critical.