From a Parent
From a Student
From a Parent - top -
When are son went to Samoa we were angry, disappointed, hurt and very numb. Our feelings remained for several months. Then we began to notice some changes taking place in our son and found that our feelings began to change too. Through the various therapy sessions he was involved in each week (personal, group, and drug prevention) he began to see himself through different eyes. He began to realize that he was not average or normal in his thinking. He could see he was making some very poor choices and he began to feel remorse.
Samoa is a wonderful setting. The boys there find out real soon that nobody cares if they are "cool" or wear brand-name clothes, shoes, or ball caps. After a few months the "image" issue began to disappear for our son, especially when he began wearing the traditional school uniform of the country which is wrap-around skirt. Our son started to find out who he really was and what he wanted to do with his life and what was most important to him. He even decided he actually loved his family.
A Better Way has a unique program mixing therapy with work, individualized self paced schooling supervised by a teacher, Samoan culture (language, traditional dancing, and handicrafts etc.,) and they even take regular trips to sites on the island when they have earned this privilege.
After 10 months in the program our son goes to church regularly. With the treatment team he worked out a way to get to and from church each Sunday, he attends with one of the teachers. At this same time my husband and I made a trip to Western Samoa to visit our son and the campus. We were thrilled to meet the staff and wonderful workers there. The Samoans are a wonderful culture of people. They are firm with the boys but there is a very kind, generous and loving side to these people. We had a terrific time with our son and with all the people who worked with him. We have always loved our son, but we thought the trust part was dead. After our visit we saw and felt that he had become genuine in his thoughts and feelings. He is not the same person. This young man now has a sensitivity about him. He is grateful for the smallest, kind gesture that comes that comes to him from the staff. He appreciates the world around him. What can I say? He now seems to really enjoy school and has found that he likes to spend time reading. The war is not over but many of the battles have been fought and won, Our son has not come home yet and that will be a huge transition to come back to this world with all the great temptations that are available. A Better Way has given our son the knowledge and tools by which he can operate his life and the choices are up to him. Right now in Samoa he is "practicing" living correct principles... He has a job he goes to one day a week where he is not supervised. This gives him the opportunity to test his skills and the school can evaluate if he is ready to come home.
We now actually look forward to the return of our son. Eventually he will come home and we hope together that we can make it over the ups and downs we will probably experience. This is so much more than we expected a year ago. We are grateful to A Better Way.
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We were on campus three other times that week. Once, we were there for three hours - before, during, and after a "fia fia" - graduation ceremony. Our son made sure he would be back on campus in time for dance practice, because part of the fia fia is their performance of native Samoan dances. We were pleased by his sense of responsibility, and gladly obliged.
At the fia fia, we had an opportunity to see all of the students and all of the staff at one time interacting together. It was a special, warm, caring time. It was apparent that ABW has created a community of its own – one with calm, respectful, loving adults modeling wonderful behavior, and good therapists and teachers to guide the process. After the fia fia, we did some videotaping of the campus. Daniel did some taping himself, which we watched last week. He had taped two Samoan staff members who were special to him!
During one afternoon, we took one of Daniel's friends off campus to swim at the hotel and then eat pizza with us. This boy was extremely polite, earnest, and well behaved. His parents had visited him twice before.
While the kitchen is simply outfitted, the food we saw prepared at several meals was fresh and tasty. At the fia fia, we had a chance to eat the food and found it as good as what we would expect at any potluck or picnic gathering. It was clear that although Samoan food items are part of the menu, the cooks try to accommodate a wide variety of preferences. When our son was home, he made poor food choices, as many teens do, even though healthy nutritious food was presented. He seemed to be more willing to try new foods, and on his own made much better food choices at restaurants. Overall, he felt that the food was fine.
At no time did we see any staff member act in any way other than sensitive, caring, and thoughtful. They seemed to genuinely like our boys, and each other, and were proud of their country. The campus is located in a physically beautiful setting, right on the ocean. The new school building is wonderful, and is now open (when we were there, they were waiting for final permits). The rooms and offices are simple and functional. They are in keeping with the community as a whole, if not better than the living quarters of most Samoans.
The addition of a Parent Liaison is a good one. Victoria Rice is serving that role, after having been with the program as Head Counselor for a number of months. We have found this change to be a good one and Ms. Rice a great help to us in facilitating our trip.
My husband and I are grateful for the dedication of the people at ABW.
They are providing a wonderful program that has the added benefit of learning about another culture as part of the curriculum. We believe that parents make the best choices for their children with the guidance of a skilled and qualified educational consultant. If an educational consultant believes ABW is a good "fit" for a young man, we would not hesitate to recommend it.
From a Student - top -
For a long time I tried to do school work but was unsuccessful. There was always something blocking me from success. I knew that I was capable of succeeding, if I just would do the work, but for some reason I did not do it. When I would force myself to do the work, and study, I would get A's. This proved that the ability was there, but the motivation and self-confidence was not. Something was blocking me from doing my work at night and studying for my tests. Just as the night brings darkness, I too was in the dark as to what my block was.
Something had to give, and that something was me. I needed to find myself; I needed to make a change in my life. Consequently, I was introduced to an educational consultant. She turned me on to a little known island in the South Pacific, called Samoa. There was a school there for kids like me. These kids all had the right core values, objectives and other "right stuff" to make it, but for some reason or another they were not. This place is known as the Coral Reef Academy. At CRA twenty students live and work together, with appropriate administrative, educational, and peer/community support, each with the common goal of helping himself.
With that goal in mind, I arrived at CRA. I observed that it was not yet time for me to do school work. I had other things to complete before I was ready for that step. The work I needed to complete was the kind called life work; work that prepared me for life and being a man. Being at CRA and being in the exemplary Samoan culture, served as a perfect platform for my work. While there, I learned about myself. Not only did I learn what I had to offer as a person, but I also learned what was good about Tom K. It helped me to gain the confidence in my abilities that I knew were there but just blocked for some reason. Being in this objective and problem-solving environment was the key to my success. In all areas that caused turmoil in my life, I had to solve the problem. I had to get to the bottom of them and "fix" them. School was no exception to this. With the help of the tutors and teachers there, I got over my school phobia. Simply put, my year at CRA opened doors for me. It broke down the barrier that was blocking me from the success that I experience today.
I spent the toughest year of my life in the South Pacific. It was the toughest, but it was also the best. I became a man, ready to do what a student and young man needs to do. Now, I am home and I am confident. Each day I prove more and more to others, but more importantly to myself, that I can do anything, and am ready to take whatever life throws at me.
From Others - top -
Better Way¹s Coral Reef Academy
A four day in-depth visit
In one of those seedy looking restaurants in Apia, Western Samoa, over a fabulous meal, the father and mother of one of the boys at the Coral Reef Academy recounted to me the content of a meeting they had earlier that day with the program¹s faculty. Knowing that I would personally spend the next four days at the Academy, I was not so much interested in their systematic description of the program. After all, I didn¹t want them to prejudice my own feelings. However, there was one part of the conversation that spoke volumes to me, and indeed, I took notice. The father indicated that he felt very comfortable about his son being there because many of the staff members spoke very passionately about his son. Indeed, some staff members had to make frequent use of Kleenex as they explained their observations, hopes investment and feelings for the young man. Clearly, those parents felt that their son was under the supervision and care of a very passionate staff that took a very personal approach to every one of its residents.
It came as no surprise to me when my personal observations of the "staff in action" confirmed that message I heard from those parents. Clearly, this is the heart of any good program and I had not to look very far to find ample evidence of this approach to treatment. It became overwhelmingly evident that this aspect of programming is the driving force of the Coral Reef Academy.
Over the past year, David Smyth and Rodney Rice have retooled the program by assembling a very talented and committed staff that has clearly elevated the Academy in scope, direction and programming. Having personally observed all aspects of programming, a brief summary and impressions of those elements are as follows.
I was particularly struck by the "Dynamic Duo", two teachers from England who are obviously very close to all the fourteen boys who are there. I observed that students were all on task and benefited from ample individual attention. Clearly, all students demonstrated deference and were "connected" to those teachers. Students worked on individual packets coordinated through Brigham Young University Extension Services. Interesting research projects in and outside of the classroom augmented these well-developed subject packets. In addition to running a well – disciplined classroom, the "the Dynamic Duo" is very much involved in activities that include a host of recreational and cultural activities. (Can you tell that I wouldn¹t mind if these guys worked for me)?
Sport and Recreation
On an island the size of Western Samoa, it was somewhat surprising to find the great variety of recreational activities present. Not only were the boys regularly involved at a well-equipped local gymnasium, but also in daily staples of water rugby, and volleyball. Literally all students enthusiastically embraced other outdoor sports. Snorkeling, sea kayaking and exploration of the island takes place regularly. The more adventurous of the staff have recently blazed trails into a course of several waterfalls and swimming holes situated deep in the island¹s interior. We were able to hike into the lower end of the waterfall systems and were "blown away" by the untouched beauty of the rain forest. Through the interviews I conducted with many of the boys, and based on photographs of boys the day of arrival, physical fitness has taken its healthy toll.
Coral Reef provides strong weekly individual, group and (telephonic) family therapy. It is obvious that the program has gone to great lengths to keep open lines of communication with families and referring professionals. Regular e-mail photographs are sent to provide visual image of residents in various aspects of program immersion. As several new residents have recently entered the program, group therapy depended on the able skills of Mike Geffeney (the licensed, mastered prepared therapist from California) to drive the process. Students who had been in the program for several months, obviously had a grasp of issues and were resourceful for other youth. The chemical dependency group format was quite similar to a strong AA/NA Big Book meeting in which group leadership rotated amongst those youth whereby they presented writings; stories and other material designed to provide inspiration, support and direction in the recovery process. All clinical record keeping is extremely detailed and serves as an excellent resource for staff, family and referring professionals alike. At Coral Reef Academy, there is real therapy going on.
Student Life and Cultural Immersion
If you are looking for a cultural immersion program, they¹ve got it! Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of the Coral Reef Academy is the blend of Samoan culture and customs with therapeutic interventions. The Samoan people, despite immense material poverty, bask in the wealth of wonderfully supportive village, family and community relationships. The elderly are respected and well cared for. Decisions affecting a community involve input from a wide cross section of village elders, local chiefs, government representatives and even outsiders when a decision may impact upon such outsiders. All participating must unanimously support decisions in such counsels. Milestones such as birthdays, homecomings, graduations, promotions, etc. are cause for celebration by all. Gifts are given freely, song; dance and food are a part of almost weekly special events, which tend to include all. Kimball DeLaMare and I were welcomed by dance and song as were families visiting their children on the island. As the youth of the program become exposed to such a culture, they become naturally less narcissistic and exclusionary.
The fact that the vast majority of child-care workers, charged with the daily, around the clock, supervision are natives, makes such a cultural immersion program possible. The program director Breda Faitua, a Samoan chief with a master degree in Education and English Literature demonstrated a great deal of sensitivity and warmth, which is manifested by all staff. All fourteen boys (A Better Way no longer enroll girls) appeared very healthy and indeed were proud to display their new learned Samoan ways through dance, dress and other cultural participation.
I found Coral Reef Academy to be a very engaging, small therapeutic program. Educational, therapeutic and recreational processes are delivered in a planned, systematic way by a small grouhighly crofessionals. The fact that the program employs over 20 full time employees (I met them all) speaks volumes about the owners¹ commitment to supervision, care and seamless programming. U. Balmer, Ph.D.