Author: CERTS Group

Age Appropriate Treatment at Moonridge Academy

Emotionally, developmentally and clinically, there is a profound difference between a younger and an older teen. Their needs and wants are different, from the way they process information and approach problems, to how they navigate the social world. For a younger teen struggling with depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, self-harm and trauma, it is important to provide age appropriate treatment to a younger teen.

Moonridge Academy’s age limitation of 11-14 years means they specifically design treatment to accommodate and serve the developmental stage of being a young teen, and also minimize exposure to “older teen” issues that they may not be ready for.  That doesn’t mean that the issues at Moonridge Academy aren’t still significant and clinically complex, but it affords our students the environment and milieu that allows them to function in the world as a pre and young teen, rather than trying to prematurely fit in to an older world.  
 Moonridge’s age limitation means that students don’t get exposed to “older teen issues and behaviors” as much. Moonridge could be metaphorically likened to a therapeutic “Middle School” or “Junior High” while traditional treatment centers could be likened to “High School.”

Active, playful and varied clinical modalities AND a nurturing environment provide the springboard to healing and wellness for younger students who might struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma or attachment issues.   There’s no surprise that earlier intervention and addressing issues before some of the more significant behaviors are internalized has far better outcomes for students and families in the long run.

Each student at Moonridge Academy has their own Treatment Plan developed by their primary therapist with input from the treatment team.  This plan is specifically designed for each individual student and helps guide treatment for a student throughout their stay at Moonridge.  Our Treatment Team reviews each student’s treatment during regularly held treatment team meetings.  

The following benefits are just a few of those experienced by students at Moonridge Academy:

Trauma Focused Treatment

At Moonridge Academy, Trauma Focused Treatment means that we take into consideration past trauma and any resulting coping mechanisms when working with a student in our therapeutic milieu.  Young adolescents need the experiential and somatic work that addresses the parts of their brains impacted by their previous experiences.  Our therapists are trained in trauma based modalities such as Brainspotting, EMDR, Natural Lifemanship Equine Therapy and trauma sensitive yoga

Moonridge Academy has an outstanding equine program that includes equine therapy and horsemanship classes. Moonridge students work with horse learning to care for them, training them and ultimately riding them. Moonridge feels strongly working with horses is ideal for younger students.

Equine Therapy and Horsemanship
Adventure Therapy

How do you get a young teen to change, to love themselves, to accept love and support? Well, you have to make it fun to do so! Moonridge Academy EXCELS at disguising life-changing, soul-excavating, often painful work as HAVING A GREAT TIME!  We believe that the more a student plays, explores, builds mastery, connects with nature and others – the more open they will be to making those adjustments towards a healthier, more balanced life. Weekly adventure therapy experiences and monthly 3-day Adventure trips provide opportunities that improve self-esteem, encourage teamwork, work on trust issues and set patterns for overcoming fears.

Our teachers are enthusiastic and know how to quickly discern different learning styles, adapt classroom instruction and assignments to each student.  We help each student to be successful in school and most importantly to ensure that they are learning.  Instructors often use project based and experiential activities to teach curriculum.  Teachers also provide differentiated assignments to allow for a student’s individual learning needs.

Specialized Academics



CERTS Responds to Negativity about the Treatment Industry

We think everyone would agree that the world feels a little different post covid.  Maybe people are feeling the impact of being so disconnected for such a long time, maybe we’re emotionally tired from carrying around so much stress and caution for so long. Certainly most every segment of our society is seeing increased rates of anxiety and depression, whether it’s in the schools, workplaces, and even at home. And nowhere do we see it more than in online forums. 

While we are so lucky to continually hear from past students about the happiness and awesome lives they are now living, recently we’ve also seen an increase in negative online reviews about the different CERTS Programs. We are also seeing and hearing about the recent increase in negative reviews from our colleagues that work at other schools and programs across the country. We acknowledge that and how scary that can be as a parent, student and even for our employees. This has been disheartening at times, given that everyone who works at any CERTS Program does so to truly try and help others, and to be a positive contributor to the lives of teens who are all working on challenging issues. So to occasionally hear that some prior students did not appreciate the help or worse yet, claim that it was intentionally harmful, is heartbreaking.

Reports have been made that students and families who have had a positive experience have chosen not to share their experiences on certain social media forums out of fear of retaliation. Often previous students and parents post positive comments that are quickly attacked or their comments are removed.  

There is also a typical and a healthy response to mental health treatment which is the desire to move on to the next chapter of your life. We often experience that students and families want to focus on the next steps of their lives and not focus on their previous treatment. Therefore, their positive experiences are not always reflected in online reviews. 

Being away from home is hard and healing is painful, no matter what. It makes sense that some students might look back and denounce the efforts to help them. We carefully make sure the care and treatment at the CERTS Programs is compassionate, ethical and transparent, but we also know we can’t control how a person opts to experience it or reflect back on it. Mental health is a tricky science. Mental health professionals and programs can create a structure and opportunities for people to heal. Still, it is in the student’s control how they use that structure and opportunities and how they sustain what they learn in therapy throughout their lives.

We are a group of professionals, many of whom have licenses and educational backgrounds that have taught us to recognize the signs of abuse, neglect, and trauma. We would never knowingly let our students, who are here to heal, experience those things at our hands. We are here to heal, not harm. CERTS comprises many wonderful people who have dedicated their careers to helping our students and their families. People who grow with us, learn with us, and lead with us to create an environment where families can learn, heal, grow, and connect.

We are strongly dedicated to hearing feedback both positive and negative, to try to remove defensiveness, and evaluate it to see if there is anything in it that we can use to improve. Improvement only comes by having an open mind and heart and a willingness to shift where needed. We have been (and continue to be) open to inviting and evaluating feedback about our schools, and we review them in our Directors and Team Meetings with an open hearted question to ourselves: “Is this true?  Even if it isn’t, could it have been experienced as true?  Is there something for us to look at here? And, what can we do with this?” From feedback we are continually making intentional shifts in different departments and approaches at the different CERTS Programs. We want to continue to amplify the things our past students have loved and appreciated about CERTS, and also see what we can do to improve the parts they didn’t.  

Executive Director Changes at La Europa Academy

La Europa Wishes Fond Farewell to Robbi O’Kelley

La Europa Academy wishes a fond farewell to Executive Director, Robbi O’Kelley. She is moving onto her next adventure and we wish her all of the very best. Robbi has done incredible work and provided amazing service to La Europa Academy for the past ten years.  During her tenure, La Europa grew from a little program with some artsy creative healers, to arguably the best Arts-Centered Residential Treatment Center for teens in the country.  Robbi has not only helped develop a robust and intense clinical program that is rife with art, theater, dance, and music, and diversity, but she has also helped build our stunning campus and new facilities.  Robbi took La Europa from a funny little B&B house with offices down the street to a multi-building campus with a stunning home, dance studios, art rooms, music spaces, gorgeous therapy offices, state of the art academics, and a transition program.  

All of those things are impressive and important, but Robbi’s true shining contribution has been the culture of care, compassion, and connection that she has cemented in our milieu and within the teams of healers at LaEuropa.  Hundreds of students and families, and even employees, have been directly blessed by who Robbi is and what she realized for us.

Announcing Amanda Kesler as Executive Director

Amanda  is certainly not new to working in the treatment world, finding her way to the La Europa Clinical Team over 5 years ago.  Since then Amanda has steadily shown herself to be a natural leader. She has become involved in all aspects of La Europa, including co-leading the clinical team, training staff, managing Parent Days, taking a large role in our recent Joint Commission Accreditation, implementing program improvements, helping manage our Covid pandemic responses, and working closely with students and families.   Amanda’s intuitive skills as a therapist have not only served the families she has worked directly with, but also the team at La Europa.  Amanda was the originator of our voluntary Employee Support Groups, helping any participant in managing  the stress of a challenging job during the very challenging time of Covid and beyond.   Prior to coming to La Europa, Amanda worked her way up from being a residential staff to becoming a licensed clinician and then managing two programs simultaneously.  Amanda eventually left for the opportunity to join La Europa and be part of the highest level of teen treatment that can be found.

Amanda has had the fortune to work closely with Robbi O’Kelley, our departing Executive Director of 10 years.  Due to this close relationship, Amanda has witnessed and been trained first-hand on effective leadership and what really makes La Europa special and unique.  The entire leadership team at La Europa has been unanimously in favor of Amanda stepping into the role of Executive Director and continuing La Europa’s privileged opportunity to serve teens and families. 

Exciting Changes and Growth at the CERTS Group

The CERTS Group leadership is shifting in ways that will only
make us more effective in helping with our student’s healing journeys.

Majority Owner, Kent Tasso founded CERTS in 2002, opening Kolob Canyon Residential, and slowly adding Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy, Moonridge Academy and La Europa Academy over the next few years.  We have built small, sincere, effective and loving programs with intensive therapy and top level programming provided by the best in the field!  To improve the operations of the CERTS Group, Kent has promoted Tawny Thomas to the role of CERTS Chief Operating Officer. 

Tawny joined CERTS in 2008 as Executive Director of Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy and more recently has served as CERTS Outreach and Program Development.  As COO, she will continue to support the leadership of our programs and take a more primary role in ensuring we are providing the best care to our clients at each program.  As Tawny takes over the day to day program oversight, Kent will still stay involved in CERTS, and particularly in manning the CERTS Foundation, our nonprofit fundraising organization that provides needed scholarships to families.

With Tawny’s stepping in as COO, there’s another exciting announcement! 

Kris Archer has joined our team as the CERTS Marketing and Outreach Director.  Everyone knows Kris, she has been a light and force for good in so many ways within the treatment community – and we’re so happy to have her hitting the road, educating others and sharing the good work happening at Kolob, Moonridge, La Europa, and Mountain Springs!  

Adventure Therapy and Experiential Treks

Adventure Therapy and Experiential Treks are a big component of many programs within the CERTS Group. In fact this is an integral part of our Southern Utah Programs including Kolob Canyon, Moonridge Academy and Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy. These programs are perfectly situated for almost all types of outdoor adventures and experiential activities. Our students are within an easy driving distance of numerous National Parks including Zion, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef and Cedar Breaks National Monument. There are countless horse trails, lakes for kayaking, deserts to explore and mountains to hike.  Playing hard is necessary to balance the intense therapy that occurs each day.  We believe that the more a student plays, explores, builds mastery, connects with nature and others – the more open they will be to making those adjustments towards a healthier, more balanced life. 

True Moments of Change

Both Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy have Adventure Therapy and Experiential Treks as integral components to their programs. Each Wednesday includes an Adventure Therapy activity and once per month both programs go on an Adventure Trip. Just this Spring along, Kolob Canyon adventured in Joshua Tree in April, Mead Lake and at Canyonlands National Park. Moonridge Academy experienced the beauty of the Valley of Fire, Arches National Park and Cathedral Gorge. At Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy, our therapists have said more than a once, that the best breakthroughs, the best therapy rarely happens on a couch. The true moments of change have been seen with our students while hiking in the rain, laughing with friends in a raft or facing their fears as they rock climb higher than they’ve ever gone before.  

At Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy, we believe that travel is the great teacher. Our outstanding, formal classroom education is complimented by regular trips outside of the classroom to study in nature’s classroom. We call these education-led, field trips Experiential Treks! Students describe these treks as powerful, fun and life-changing. They live and experience what they are studying rather than just reading about it. Because many of our students are “hands-on” learners, this unique approach works well for them. For all of our students, these special treks provide memories and learning experiences they will never forget.

Scuba Trek at Mountain Springs Prep

Mountain Springs Scuba Trek

Why a Scuba Trek? Well, who doesn’t want to live on a boat for 7 days with amazing catered meals, a sun deck to lounge on, and all the water play toys you can imagine?  Not to mention literally playing with the sea lions in the water, seeing the incredible marine life 40 feet underwater, whale watching, and parasailing 600 feet in the air?  All with your friends.  It’s a no brainer!

But it goes beyond that.  Training our Mountain Springs students in scuba diving is some pretty clever back door therapy, that includes deep dives into the skills of:

  • Emotional and physical regulation
  • Breathing techniques
  • Commitment to safety 
  • Planning and preparedness for “what if’s”
  • Using relationships for connection and enjoyment as well as safety
  • Appreciation for nature and the environment

To certify in scuba diving, our students participate in weeks of classes, then pool training and finally open water tests to make sure they can safely employ what they have learned.  

What a concept.  Deep learning, lots of practice, a team helping you, and then finally launching into the ocean (but still with buddies and support)!  Much like student’s transitioning from wilderness or RTC (deep learning) into Mountain Springs (practice and team), and then truly being prepared to launch home or to college.  

See?  We’ve thought this through. 

La Europa Academy and Mosaic House Earn Joint Commission Accreditation

In March, La Europa Academy and Mosaic House earned accreditation from the Joint Commission. This national accreditation demonstrates that your clinical program emphasizes a consistent approach to care and a culture of excellence. The Joint Commission, also known as TJC, is a United States-based nonprofit tax-exempt 501 organization that accredits more than 22,000 US health care organizations and programs. 

Joint Commission accreditation and certification means your organization complies with the highest national standards for safety and quality of care and is committed to continually improving patient care. Accreditation and certification require an on-site evaluation by the Joint Commission. The evaluation assesses compliance with Joint Commission standards and verifies improvement activities. After earning accreditation or certification, organizations receive The Gold Seal of Approval® from The Joint Commission.

La Europa and Mosaic House are pleased to provide a level of care that meets the standards outlined by the Joint Commission. La Europa is also pleased to be affiliated with the National Association of Schools and Programs (NATSAP). At CERTS we are always seeking ways to improve the services we provide to our students and their families.

Moonridge Academy Celebrates 18 Years

Sometimes you just need something to cheer about!  We are excited for this chance to celebrate 18 incredible years of service supporting teens and their families. Moonridge Academy welcomed their first student in February 2003.  In the years since, we have seen so many amazing students find joy in their journey as they have matured, healed, gained skills, and accomplished hard things at Moonridge Academy.  We have loved watching students hike higher than ever before, connect with horses, and learn more about themselves than they thought possible through tough clinical work.  Honestly, we couldn’t be more proud of our students.

Watch this short video featuring members of our team sharing their favorite things about Moonridge Academy

One of the core values of Moonridge Academy is adventure. Adventure Therapy is an essential aspect of everyday life at Moonridge. Students spend each Wednesday involved in adventure activities including hiking, skiing, paddle boarding, canyoneering, and the list just goes on and on. Each month students also participate in a 3-day adventure trip that most often includes camping and exploring the majestic scenery of Utah. Students hike, climb and explore places like Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Valley of Fire. The therapists often feel that the best therapy they do with students is the therapy that happens outside while they are hiking, rappelling, kayaking or skiing alongside a student. Check out this short video that highlights some of the wonderful adventures our students and therapists experienced in 2020.

To learn more about Moonridge Academy, visit their website at http://moonridgeacademy.com/. You can also contact Admissions Director Wendy Penrod at wendy@moonridgeacademy.com.

Covid-19 Updates

“We are in this together–And we will get through this together”

 – Antonio Guterros
 Secretary-General of the United Nations

The CERTS Programs are excited to announce that we have started the process of Covid-19 vaccination!  Most of our clinical, advising and academic team members have received the first of two vaccinations.  Our mentoring staff has also been able to start with vaccinations as well.  This process will continue in a few weeks when many will receive their second vaccination.  We feel so fortunate that the state of Utah has considered our staff to be essential workers who have a higher priority to receive the vaccine.  We are happy to be contributing to a healthy, safe and hopefully more “normal” 2021.   

In the meantime, we will continue with the Covid-19 guidelines that we have successfully had in place at our programs throughout the pandemic:

Covid-19 Guidelines

  • All students are encouraged to wear masks in the classrooms and when not in their bedrooms.  All employees are required to wear masks.
  • Social distancing is always encouraged. 
  • Frequent handwashing and disinfecting surfaces is just a way of life now.
  • Newly admitting students are tested for Covid-19.
  • Symptomatic and positive Covid-19 students are immediately quarantined as per CDC guidelines.
  • Frequent tests are administered on all students and employees whenever we have encountered a positive case to quickly reduce further spread.
  • If an employee tests positive, they immediately quarantine at home for the recommended 10-14 days before being cleared to return to work.
  • Students have been able to seamlessly continue with their schooling and therapy through online platforms, even when in quarantine. 
  • Our off-campus activity options are always being adjusted as necessary, as dictated by local levels of outbreak and CDC recommendations.  We have been able to continue with many of our adventure and recreation activities.  
  • Parent visits and home visits have enhanced testing and quarantining requirements to help increase the safety of everyone.   

And With All of This….

The CERTS Programs–Kolob Canyon, La Europa Academy, Moonridge Academy and Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy–have been able to continue safely admitting new students, and we have had overwhelmingly positive feedback from our parents.  None of us could have ever predicted the curve balls of Covid-19.  We are excited for a healthier 2021!  

2021 Anne Sullivan Award Recipient

Each year the CERTS Group of Programs honors a chosen few of their mentoring staff with the Anne Sullivan Award. This award for a mentoring staff’s dedication to the students and their fellow peers is named after Helen Keller’s lifelong teacher Anne Sullivan. Anne showed complete commitment and dedication to her pupil. She improved Helen Keller’s quality of life by teaching her new skills. This is what each Anne Sullivan Award Recipient does for students at the CERTS Programs–improves their life through teaching them new skills. These skills help our students learn to have a life worth living finding joy in their journey. This year the two recipients of this tremendous 2021 Anne Sullivan Award are Eddie Calamity at Moonridge Academy an  Brianna “Bri” Corliss at Kolob Canyon.

Eddie Calamity Moonridge Academy Anne Sullivan Award Recipient https://www.moonridgeacademy.com/news

Eddie is such a talented leader on the Moonridge Academy campus.  His fellow staff look up to him with respect often following his direction and example.  Eddie is the true definition of calm.  Students and staff alike routinely turn to Eddie for advice, validation, support and understanding.  Eddie helps our students both in challenging times and also at times of great fun.  We feel so grateful that Eddie is part of our team.  Thank you Eddie!  We love you!

Brianna “Bri” Corliss Kolob Canyon Anne Sullivan Award Recipient https://www.kolobcanyonrtc.com/Newsletter

We asked our students and staff, “What is it that you love and admire about Bri?”  There answers will easily help you see why she is so exemplary in her role as a mentor staff.  

“I appreciate her balance betwen firm boundaries and expectation and kindness and connection.”

“I love hearing from students how Bri is able to be a good role model for all of the students.”

“Bri isn’t afraid to try and do new things.”

“I have enjoyued here quiet and gentle pressence on shift.”

“Even when Bri is freezing at the barn, she has a smile and positive attitude.”

“Bri is so willing to help out in any way and she does it with a smile.”

“She is so great with all of the students and all of the staff.”

“Bri is direct and compassionate at the same time.”

“Bri makes the people working with her better.”

“Bri’s calm yet assertive pressencee is so nice to be around.”

“Bri is able to smile and have a positive attitude even when things are difficult.”

“Bri has a remarkable balance of holding limits and showing care to our students.”

Thank you Eddie and Bri for you dedication to our students. Thank you for being all in, every day, for every students. We are so grateful for you and that you are on our team.

CERTS Programs Honor Veterans

In honor of Veterans Day, retired Air Force 2-Star General Kathy Thomas, Vietnam Veteran and the first female general officer in the Air Force Space Command spoke to students at the CERTS Programs, Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy.

General Thomas shared with the students her stories of serving throughout the world, aiding in diplomacy missions, mobilizing troops following the 9/11 attacks, and – in her opinion, most importantly – helping change the rules and removing the obstacles for women in the armed forces.  General Thomas shared funny stories about having to wear skirts in negative 75 degree weather on base in Minot, North Dakota, and how she helped convince the Air Force of the folly of that gender-based rule.  She shared touching stories of supporting struggling troops, and how leadership is not in the speeches you make, or the ribbons on your lapel, but in the moments of service and true connection you give to others.  The students were enthralled with how many places she has been to, and served in the world, as well as how many Presidents of the United States she had personally met.

General Thomas focused on the 3 Core Values of the Air Force:
1) Excellence in Everything You Do
2) Service to Others
3) Integrity, Always Be Honest  

She shared how these values will lead to a successful, happy life, regardless of being in the military or not.  The students showed great interest in what General Thomas had to share.  Many asked for her autograph after she spoke.  General Thomas now spends her retirement in Southern Utah, mentoring teens and young adults pursuing higher education and/or military service.  We are grateful to have had General Thomas share her life service with us.