West Ridge Academy has been helping troubled teens for 45 years.
Michaela from Wyoming is beautiful, poised, and so smart she is graduating a year early from high school. She is so impressive you’d be certain she was the valedictorian or the student body officer of her school.
She is, in fact, the captain of the basketball team. Yet here’s the surprise. She is a student at West Ridge Academy, a live-in program and full-time school in Salt Lake City for difficult teens that offers hope and healing to them and their families through a holistic program that treats kids for not only mental and physical problems, but spiritual ones as well.
Unlike any other program of its kind, West Ridge believes that healing troubled kids must include as its foundation gospel principles centered on the atonement of Jesus Christ as well as learning new coping skills and values.
“It is not just a higher power that we are seeking for the kids to understand,” said John Stolton, a director at the school. “We name that higher power and we call him our Savior.”
Teens who come to West Ridge are transformed from the inside out. Leave out gospel principles and the acknowledgment of the role of God to help, and the change may be only cosmetic. West Ridge’s approach is to help difficult teens shed the approach to life that made them difficult in the first place.
Many of you who are reading this right now have a child in your family, whom you love with a parents’ passion, who seems to be spiraling out of control. And if he or she is not spiraling, you may be seeing bad choices, defiance, withdrawal from the family and especially you as parents. You feel devastated, heartsick and sometimes sleepless with worry. The child whose hand you’ve held for many years is suddenly a stranger.
Michaela’s parents felt that way.
If it is not happening to you, you may know someone close who is watching helplessly as his or her child—exposed to the enemy territory of this world—is in some kind of trouble.
What in the world can you do? Most people don’t know, but when Lynn Smith, found her ninth of ten children in this place eight years ago, she picked up the phone and made a call to West Ridge. “The phone weighed about 120 pounds,” she said because it seemed like such a big step to put her teenager in a live-in school for therapeutic help, “but it’s the best thing I ever did.”
Not only did she watch her own child transform at West Ridge, but she became so committed to the West Ridge philosophy of help that she became an Admissions Specialist there, manning the phone when the parents of other troubled teens call in aching for help.
Lynn says she hears a lot of the “d” words on the phone as parents talk to her. Their teenage child is defiant, depressed, despairing, and about half of them are on drugs. Their parents may have tried many avenues, but they simply don’t know what to do to help them. They may be failing in school, falling behind, hanging out with destructive friends.
She said, “Parents will place their children here for one of two reasons. They are fearful for their kids and they don’t trust them. The have shown a level of unmanageability that is beyond the parents’ experience and capacity to help.
“Parents might have first turned to school resources or to outpatient help or counselors. They might have turned to ecclesiastical help, but a bishop may be left in the same quandary about how to help in this complex situation. Parents just hope that what they are seeing will just go away, but it doesn’t, and the problem is it won’t with out in-depth help.”
Lynn described a mother from California she had talked to on the phone that very day. In this case her daughter had been a great student and happy in school until 8th grade when she left her small, private Catholic school for a public high school and her whole life had changed. Hormones were setting in. She was defiant, failing and so depressed she had stopped singing. “This mother is scared for her daughter, and, not only did she like the program with a fully accredited school, the spiritual part of this healing process that we offer here is just the jewel in the crown.”
People ask West Ridge every day if this is only for Latter-day Saints, and they answer that while LDS students here attend LDS meetings and have seminary, what is stressed at West Ridge is spirituality. If an adolescent believes that they are the center of the universe, it is hard to embrace concepts like choice and consequence, the idea of developing character and being loyal to principles.
“Until we can get them to the point where they can start believing in a power high than yourself, there will be a gap in their healing. If a parent is not looking for that component in the therapy for their child, we are not a good fit,” said John Stolton.
“We’ve had professionals talk about putting their patients here, who have said, ‘We’ll refer to you, but take those pictures of Christ off the wall,” he said, “but that is central to the healing.”
The school has its own branch right on campus, a Young Men and Young Women’s program and in the last few years has turned out 58 Eagle Scouts—mostly from boys who had come to West Ridge and changed their entire frame of mind about what was important. On campus are also 18 full-time senior missionaries who meet with the students once a week to give love, hope and spiritual counsel, which the West Ridge students report as being as important to them as their therapy sessions.
Guy Hardcastle, Director of Admissions, said, “When parents call, our initial task is to put them at ease.