Author: CERTS Group

Learning Financial Literacy Can be Fun and Profitable

Learning to budget, pay taxes, obtain a loan, find the most competitive credit card rates or recover from identity theft might sound stressful or maybe even boring.  The Financial Literacy class at Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy, taught by Becca Black is anything but!  Student Ethan shared, “Financial literacy is so important and Becca is such a great teacher!”

Students are currently involved in a realistic budgeting project. Each student has chosen a desired career and a city to “live” in.  Based on their chosen profession, each student was paid a salary.  Students then created a budget including housing costs, car payments, insurance, utilities, cell phone, medical expenses and so much more.  In an attempt to help students understand that life events can dramatically affect your budget, Becca recently assigned each student an unexpected financial situation such as a natural disaster, medical emergency or car accident.  Students have since made adjustments in their budget to account for this surprise development.  What a great way to learn that “real life” isn’t always easy financially speaking.

Class member Aubrey said, “I have had some really hard financial things come up in my life right now and I don’t have the stability that I thought I did.  I just applied to my dream college and I had to try and find a way to pay for that.  I had to borrow the money for the application from someone.  Now I am trying to figure out how to pay that person back.   This class is helping me figure out all of this.  I think it is good that I am learning this now, so I won’t be blindsided by finances in the future.  Without this class financial literacy, I would be so much more stressed out about my future.”   

Learning To Be Entrepreneurs….

During a recent class discussion, the students asked if they could go out to lunch as a class.  Becca thought it was a great idea and told the students they would need to come up with a way to fund it.  Ethan suggested that they start their own business to earn the money.  After brainstorming the students decided that selling baked goods would be the best way to turn a profit.  They determined to take advantage of a local farmer’s market to sell their product. Sophie provided a family recipe for Cowboy Cookies and together the class created a yummy brownie recipe.  Both recipes could be produced at a low cost.  The students made the choice to sell both fresh goods and dry mixes of their recipes. Each student invested as much capital as they could to acquire supplies. The class calculated how much they could make with the capital they had invested building a pricing and marketing plan accordingly.

Students contacted the farmer’s market making arrangements to sell on an upcoming Saturday. The Friday before found students preparing their products.  On the day of the event, students sold $110 of baked goods and mixes.  The class had invested $55 in materials and booth rental at the Farmer’s Market.  With $55 of profit, the students made more than enough to fund a pizza lunch. In the following class discussions, students determined what they did well and what could have gone better. Almost all of the students had something insightful to share, and ideas for where they could have improved. Lessons learned in Becca’s classroom will hopefully last a lifetime. 


Mountain Springs Is Doing Some Amazing Things This Fall

A key element of Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy is helping students develop into responsible individuals.  We want our students to practice making healthy choices and balancing all aspects of their lives.  We encourage our students to experience success and become powerful young people who are active and engaged in their community.

Capstone Projects

Mountain Springs’ students complete a capstone project that demonstrates their leadership, community involvement and independence.  Caitlin chose a Capstone Project that supported the community event Cedar City Rocks.  This event brings the community together with the purpose of spreading kindness and helping people find creativity in themselves.  Caitlin painted rocks, putting them in the community for people to find.

Bryson’s Capstone Project involved him leading a school wide group providing tools to internalize the therapeutic work students completed in wilderness and previous residential treatment.  To prepare for this group, Bryson returned to his residential treatment program to interview students and therapists.


Mountain Springs’ students are involved in their community.  Sophie volunteers at an emergency shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence. She recently helped with their “Dine Out For Shelter” event.  Kelsi volunteers at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Ethan volunteers at a veterinary clinic, and Bryson helps coach a youth soccer team.


Mountains Springs’ students gain independence earning and budgeting their own money.  Toma has a job at Culver’s and was recently promoted!  Maeve has been working at a local Kroger grocery store and will be transferring to a store near her home when she graduates from MSPA.  Tess is working at McDonald’s, Kelsi is a barista, Caitlin recently got a job at Dairy Queen….and the list goes on!

College Classes and Extracurricular Activities

Mountain Springs’ students can take college classes at Southern Utah University which proves to be a highlight for many.  Other students participate in extracurricular sports at local high schools.  Max is practicing with the wrestling team at a local high school, while Wayne plays on the hockey team.  Matt is the star running back on the Cedar High School freshman football team.  And let’s not forget our co-ed softball team that just won the city championship!

CERTS Hosts Southern Utah Teacher Summit

What happens when teachers get together for a Teacher Summit?  Well, lots of learning, laughter, and collaboration takes place.  Academic relationships are forged and insights gained.

On Wednesday July 10th, Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy and Kolob Canyon hosted the first annual Southern Utah Teacher Summit.  The concept of uniting the Southern Utah Programs together for a Teacher Summit was originally discussed many months ago by the academic teams at Kolob Canyon and Mountain Springs.  It seemed like a huge undertaking, but ultimately it was decided that it was invaluable and would provide much needed collaboration.

Planned and organized by Kolob Canyon Academic Director Susan Mackert and MSPA Academic Director Dave Gardiner (both CERTS Programs), this wonderful conference brought teachers and administrators together to discuss the needs of students in therapeutic settings and residential treatment. Keynote Speaker Eric Bonnett, LCSW started off the conference talking about how students with a background of trauma learn. Informative breakout sessions followed throughout the day. Sessions included details about accreditation, authentic assessment, teacher self-care, experiential learning, strategies for managing executive functioning issues, using improvisational comedy to improve retention, mindfulness and validation in the classroom, and student directed learning models. There was also a chance for round table discussions among disciplines.  Teachers were able to brainstorm about more effective teaching methods for students who have emotional, mental health and behavioral struggles.  Since many of the programs who participated in the Summit have smaller academic teams, this collaboration was invaluable.   And of course there was some fantastic food!  We cannot wait until next year’s summit.


CERTS Programs Earn Gold Status As Research Designated Programs

Recently two of the CERTS Programs–Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy earned Gold Status as a Research Designated Programs. Both programs have over 5 years of data that show the outcomes of treatment.  All of the CERTS Programs have long been affiliated with NATSAP (National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs).  Many years ago NATSAP decided that collecting data to monitor the outcomes of treatment was essential.  As explained on the NATSAP Website,  “The Board of Directors of NATSAP has long realized that our profession has the responsibility of providing data that examines the impact and effectiveness of our programs.  To this end the Board of NATSAP  established the status of Research Designated Program to be given to programs that apply and demonstrate they are involved in supplying data that is aimed at evaluating NATSAP program effectiveness and increasing the understanding of our programs impact on youth and their families”.   CERTS Programs Kolob Canyon, La Europa Academy, and Moonridge Academy became some of the first programs to become Research Designated Programs.

Parents often ask, “What is your success rate?” This is a difficult question to answer since each student comes to a CERTS Program with similar but unique issues and at different places in the recovery process.  Our treatment is highly individualized to accommodate these differences, so the “success rate” varies depending on how success is defined.  In spite of each student’s uniqueness, there are commonalities among the students that do allow us to define success and measure students’ progress.  At the CERTS Programs, we have selected the Youth Outcomes Questionnaire (YOQ) as our tool to gauge student progress.  The YOQ is a valid and reliable instrument that is used across the country in a variety of treatment settings.  Using an instrument that has statistical validity and reliability helps insure that our data is consistently and accurately measuring students’ progress.  It helps the CERTS Program determine the effective of residential treatment.



So, what do these outcome graphs show?  Parents and students are asked to fill out the Youth Outcome Questionaire upon admission, discharge, 180 days after treatment and again 365 days after treatment.  The dotted line that runs through the graph is indicative of a typical teen who is not receiving therapeutic intervention.  The first bar of the graph indicates the degree of clinical significance at student has upon admission to Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy.  Most students admitting to Kolob and Moonridge are having clinically significant issues.  The second bar of the graph demonstrates how parents and students are rating the student upon discharge.  The third bar of the graph shows how students are doing 180 days after treatment.  The fourth bar shows how a student is doing at 365 days from treatment.

The first graph shows how students themselves have responded to the Youth Outcome Questionnaire upon admission to Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy.  Students tend to view themselves favorably.  Their outcome questionnaires indicate that potential students don’t feel that they are experiencing many behavioral, relationship or mental health issues.  The second graph shows how the parents of Kolob Canyon  and Moonridge Academy students have responded to the same questionnaire regarding their daughters.  This means that parents view their daughters to be experiencing a high degree of behavioral, relationship and mental health issues.  The next bar of the graph shows how our parents score their daughters upon discharge from Kolob and Moonridge.  As you can see, there is significant progress made from admission to discharge, with parents scoring their daughters below that of the “typical teenager”.  We expect this to happen because a girl has just completed extensive treatment in the time she is at Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy. The third bar shows how parents view their daughters 6 months post graduation or following treatment.  We actually expect this slight increase to occur as a girl is back in her regular day-to-day life.  At a year following treatment, we see that the majority of the girls who have graduated from the Kolob and Moonridge programs level out, scoring very similar to the “typical teenager”.  Our data then shows that girls maintain this same level of behavior for the next 5 years.  We have been monitoring many of our students up to 5 years following discharge.

CERTS remains highly committed to the research process and the assistance research provides us in providing successful treatment to our students and their families.


CERTS Academics Fosters Success

Each CERTS Program includes an excellent academic program that fosters success in our students.   Kolob Canyon, La Europa Academy and Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy provide a high school program for students grades 9-12.  Moonridge Academy provides a middle school academic program for students in grades 6-9.  Parents make the important decision to enroll their daughter at a CERTS Program primarily because of therapeutic challenges they are facing.  However, many are also experiencing either academic challenges or academic consequences as a result of their emotional struggles.  Many residential programs minimize the academic component and use online coursework or learning packets with an instructor teaching multiple subjects or levels at the same time.  Our students attend classes with highly qualified, full-time, licensed teachers.  All CERTS Programs are accredited through the AdvancED accrediting agency. All credits are fully transferable to home school districts.  Students who are completing their high school credits at a CERTS Program, can earn a high school diploma by filling the Utah State Office of Education graduation requirements.

CERTS believes that a challenging, stimulating academic program is an important key to restoring balance and health to our students. Success in the classroom has far-reaching effects into other areas of life. As a result, we provide a high quality, fully accredited educational program.  Special attention is paid to meeting the needs of each individual student. Our goal is to develop positive self-esteem in a climate that stimulates creativity and individuality. Our philosophy is based on the belief that each child has unique capabilities and talents.  We feel that a wide variety of experiences are needed to help students discover and enhance their talents. We help each student to experience success that can be applied to all aspects of our education and clinical programs. Academic expectations are high and with the guidance of a highly trained and caring academic team, students learn to master the necessary skills to prepare them for their future.  Students who enter our program academically behind, are often able to catch up with their class work while receiving the therapeutic care that is required.  At CERTS, our belief is that a strong and challenging academic program is an important component of helping our students heal, develop resiliency, competency and establish future direction.  The academic component compliments the therapeutic program by:

  • Allowing students to practice skills in a traditional academic classroom setting
  • Helping students develop or strengthen their academic abilities
  • Allowing students to recoup lost credits, and/or helping them to move forward with their academic credits and goals
  • Superb teacher to student ratios (average 1:6 teacher to student ratio) that provide the one-on-one best suited for this type of student
  • Outstanding college-prep curriculum that is taught through learning and teaching techniques best suited for this type of student (direct instruction from a certified teacher with lots of opportunity for “hands-on” learning)
  • A customized education plan
  • Classes take place on campus with access to the teachers during regular study hall hours
  • Specialized teachers who are passionate about what they teach and, therefore, who produce students who say things like, “I’ve never liked math before now!”
  • SAT/ACT preparation and testing
  • Opportunities to accelerate students’ coursework to help them get caught up or graduate on time. In addition, opportunities exist to make up deficient grades
  • College entrance preparation and application assistance
  • Career exploration and vocational internships

Graduates are Successful

Students at La Europa Academy have been accepted to some phenomenal colleges and universities including the Art Institute of New York, Parson Institute of Fashion Design, California College of Arts, Loyola College, Drexel University, Fordham University and many state colleges such as Colorado State University, Florida State University and many of the California State University Campuses.  Students at Kolob Canyon have been accepted to Lawrence University, Southern Utah University, Sarah Lawrence and various state universities.  Over the years students at all of our programs have received scholarships as well to some of the universities listed above.

On Friday May 17, 2019 Mountain Springs held its Spring Commencement Exercises at Southern Utah State University.  A total of five students graduated with high school diplomas and six students graduated from the program at Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy with three students accomplishing both.  Principal John Dobbs from Cedar High School was the graduation Guest Speaker.  High school dipolmas were handed out by Academic Director Dave Gardiner.  Each program graduate was honored by their student advisor. Each year we are excited when our graduating students are accepted to colleges and universities they have applied to.  It is wonderful to see them advance to campuses of higher education with the academic and life skills learned at Mountain Springs Prep.  Students graduating with the Class of 2019 were accepted to a number of different colleges and universities including Oregon State University, Arizona State University, Whitman College, Colorado State University, and a number of California State University campuses–California State University Chico, California State University Fullerton, California State University Montery Bay, California State University Northridge, and California State University Sonoma. One of our students earned scholarships to Evergreen State College, Oregon State University, University of Pudget Sound and Whitworth University. We are so proud of our graduates and all that they have achieved.



International Trek Helps Students Learn About Different Cultures

Not all education can and should happen within the classroom. Sometimes, traveling is the best form of education, as students can get a number of personal and educational benefits from travel. From learning about other cultures first-hand to seeing where historical events took place with their own eyes, educational travel gives students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of art, science, history, and culture in ways they never have before. But the benefits of student travel go far beyond the actual subjects taught during the trip. When students can see how other people live their lives, they learn so much about being able to see through another’s perspective, building their capabilities for compassion and empathy. After all, as previously mentioned, traveling students learn that cultures may have several differences, but they also learn that people from other cultures aren’t so entirely different. When they travel, they learn so much about other people and the world is no longer full of “other” people, but just people, and the world starts to feel like it, as a whole, is home.

Each year Mountain Springs provides an International Trek–an amazing way to experience new cultures, see fantastic sights, eat amazing food and take the learning outside the classroom. This year our adventure took us to Portugal and Spain.  We discovered Lisbon exploring through downtown and the viewpoints and waterfront, navigating the subways and buses, Rossio Square, the Arch of Rua Augusta, San Jorge’s Castle, Alfama, The Lisbon Cathedral, the Oceanario (Aquarium), incredible food, even better gelato, the Monument to the Explorers, Belém Tower.  And stairs, lots and lots of stairs.  Getting out of the big city and into the countryside and Sintra, Portugal just grew more and more beautiful with each passing mile.  We loved Quinta Da Regaleira, an awe-inspiring estate complete with a castle, chapel, towers, spiraling wells to descend – and ascend,mini castles and an entire park of lush gardens and underground labyrinths.

Spain was next!  Seville during Holy Week is quite an experience.  We toured the Seville Cathedral, with a tour of the rooftop and city views, to the Plaza de España where some of us rented the small rowboats in the canal circling the front of the grand edifice.  The Plaza’s ornate style and bright tiled lampposts were truly iconic. A day in Malaga was next where we dipped our toes (or crazily for a few, their entire bodies) into the frigid Mediterranean Sea.  The final days of the Trek were spent in Madrid and Granada, a beautiful sprawling town, mixing old with new on every block.

For many of our students this was a once in a lifetime experience.  Many thanks to Jon Larsen, Executive Director who planned this amazing adventure.  We can’t wait to see what next year brings!

Driven 2 Teach Experience Enhances Academics

TJ Penrod, Social Studies Teacher at Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy is passionate about teaching his students.  He is innovative and creative in his teaching method providing students a variety of modalities to fully experience history.  He makes learning interesting, memorable and hands-on.  TJ finds that this type of teaching is highly effective in a therapeutic learning environment such as residential treatment where students often arrive bringing a history of school refusal or a high degree of anxiety associated with academics.  TJ is continually looking for new ideas to improve his own knowledge base to provide interesting information to his students in a way that they will effectively respond to.

TJ was recently selected as one of 28 teachers from hundreds of applicants across the state of Utah to participate this summer in the Driven 2 Teach Program.  Driven 2 Teach explains their program as such, “The Driven 2 Teach program takes History teachers who specialize in American History or historical literature out of the classroom to the very places where history happened.  The Driven 2 Teach program gives teachers an extended, hands-on learning experience unlike any other.” In order to apply for this incredible opportunity, TJ wrote a letter explaining why he particularly should participate and what opportunities he would give his students from this experience.

TJ will specifically be involved in the Civil War to Civil Rights seminar. This seminar will provide TJ with a deeper understanding of Civil Rights in American History.  Driven 2 Teach explains that this seminar, “Provides teachers with a greater understanding of the rights of citizens to political, economic, and social freedom with equality for all with a focus on the African American struggle.”  To prepare for the trip, TJ won’t just be packing his bags and buying road trip treats.  He will need to read 6 assigned books and do homework himself completing a 6-credit college course in just 6 weeks.

The itinerary for the seminar includes some of the major locations for both the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement.  Starting in Charleston, South Carolina, TJ will learn about and study the beginning of the slave trade, the institution of slavery and the Civil War. TJ and the other teachers will then go to Atlanta, Georgia, where they will study the history of African Americans and the role of Martin Luther King at the Martin Luther King National Museum. Tuskegee, Alabama and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site will be the next stop.  The seminar will consider these pilots as pioneers of the Civil Rights movement.  TJ will also spend time in the George Washington Carver Museum. One aspect of the trip that is most exciting to TJ is the opportunity to travel to Selma, Birmingham, and Montgomery, Alabama to study at the Civil Rights Institute and the Rosa Parks Museum.  TJ will visit the 16th Street Baptist Church and be given the opportunity to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge with a woman who marched across the bridge with Martin Luther King Jr.

TJ explains, “I fully intend to use this opportunity to improve and strengthen our amazing Social Studies programs at both schools. I will be able to bring this experience to our classrooms and really engage our students in the curriculum of Civil Rights.”   During the seminar and as well as upon his return, TJ will be developing nationally archived lesson plans that will benefit students at both Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy.

Parent Education is an Important Part of the Process

Parent education can be defined as any training, program, or other intervention that helps parents acquire skills to improve their parenting of and communication with their children.  At CERTS we take this concept seriously.  We feel that the healing therapeutic process for a student is dramatically improved when the parents are involved in learning and changing.  Research demonstrates that one of the keys to the success of adolescent treatment is parental involvement and parent education.  At the CERTS programs emphasis is placed on helping the family system by providing the family with the tools they need to make the successful transition home after treatment. Because most of our parents are unwittingly locked into an unhealthy dance step of control battles and manipulation with their children prior to admission, proper training and education to help parents break out of this pattern is a key factor for long-term success.

There are three major ways that CERTS helps educate parents to learn and practice new skills:

Parent Webinars:  Live webinars are provided to parents up to three times per month.  Webinars are taught by clinical and academic staff from all of the CERTS Programs and include topics from understanding different diagnosis to helping parents navigate transition and just about everything in between.  Webinars are interactive.  During webinars parents are able to interact with the instructor asking valuable questions.  CERTS also has a Parent Education Channel where parents can view on-demand all recorded webinars at their convenience.  La Europa Academy also provides parents with a weekly DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) Support Group where parents can learn specific DBT Skills.

 Family Weekends/Parent Seminars:  Each CERTS Program–Kolob Canyon, La Europa Academy, Moonridge Academy and Mountain Springs hold regular Parent Seminars.  Kolob, LaEuropa and Moonridge hold seminar weekends quarterly, while Mountain Springs hold parent weekends three times per year.  Parent Weekends are filled with intensive parent education workshops, parent support groups, family therapy and recreational activities.  Parent Education Workshops are a key part of seminar weekend, providing parents with an opportunity to learn skills such as validation, helping your child who might be emotionally unregulated, understanding suicide and self-harm behaviors.  Workshops also cement skills that parents have been working on in family therapy.   Parent weekends also allow parents and children to have free time together to practice new skills and improve communication.  Some of the CERTS Programs also provide a family seminar once per year.  Kolob Canyon takes all of their families including siblings on a 3-day river trip.  It makes for a fun outdoor adventure with the support of therapists and staff.

Family Therapy:  Families at all of the CERTS Programs participate in Family Therapy.  At Kolob Canyon, La Europa Academy and Moonridge Academy families participate in weekly therapy sessions.  At Mountain Springs students receive clinical services from community based therapists.  These community therapists and the families determine what amount of family therapy is needed.  During family therapy parents and their children learn ways to better communicate and develop skills to improve their relationship.  Family therapy is a time for parents and children to talk through specific issues with the guiding hand of a therapist.  Parents might also be given specific “homework” assignments such as reading a specific book, watching a specific webinar or completing some other kind of therapeutic learning experience.

With each of these parent education opportunities, CERTS is helping parents take back the reigns of the parenting process and decision making.  This is so essential to the therapeutic and healing process.

Over-Control: When Self-Control Becomes a Problem

During a recent CERTS Parent Education Webinar, Robbi O’Kelley the Executive Director of La Europa Academy presented on the topic, “Over-Control:  When Self-Control Becomes a Problem.”  Robbi explained that at the CERTS Programs and specifically at La Europa Academy we are seeing more and more students admit with over-control issues.  Students with over-control issues often need a different type therapeutic support than students with under-control issues.  Many of the evidenced based treatments are designed for under-control individuals.  Many treatment programs for teenagers suffering from depression, trauma and anxiety deal specifically with emotional dysregulation, poor distress tolerance, and poor impulse control.

Over-control is a problem of emotional loneliness, secondary to low openness and social signal deficits, whereas under-control is a problem of emotional dysregulation secondary to poor distress tolerance and lack of poor impulse control.  The chart below demonstrates the different dynamics between a student who presents with under-control issues and over control issues.

Under-Control Dynamics  

Over Control Dynamics


Difficulty regulating emotion Difficulty showing emotion
Allow mood to dictate actions Rigid rule governed behavior
Difficulty self-soothing Bitterness, envy
Poor Impulse Control Lack of Openness
Relationship difficulties Distant relationships
Use of external items to manage emotions—substances, food, etc. Hyper-Perfectionism
Low Distress Tolerance High Distress Tolerance

Defining Over-Control–Four Core Deficits

Receptivity and Openness:  Manifested by high risk aversion, hyper-vigilant for threat, avoidance of novelty, and automatic discounting of critical feedback.

Flexible Responding:  Manifested by compulsive needs of order and structure, hyper-perfectionism, compulsive planning/rehearsing, rigid rule-governing behavior, and moral certitude.

Emotional Expression and Awareness:  Manifested by inhibited expression, and/or disingenuous expression (e.g smiling when distressed), and a minimization or low-awareness of stress.

Social Connectedness and Intimacy:  Manifested by aloof/distant relationships, high social comparison, envy and bitterness, and low empathy and validation skills.

Helping Over-Control Clients

The focus of treatment is the correcting the over-controlled coping style. One of the best treatment options is Radically Open Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (RODBT). Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT) is a new evidence based treatment targeting a spectrum of disorders characterized by excessive self-control, often referred to as over-controlIt is supported by 20 years of clinical experience and translational research that parallels established guidelines for treatment development (e.g., UK Medical Council, 2008; Rounsville & Carroll, 2001; 2006).   Treatment that focuses on changing this style and “becoming part of the tribe” ameliorates the symptoms.  Therapists need to teach radical openness rather than avoidance.  They can teach clients to embrace emotions as an important system of information for making decisions.  Therapists also need to focus on teaching and modeling flexibility in thinking and actions.  Parents can also model this type of flexibility to their children with over-control struggles.  Therapists can also target social signaling as a primary intervention.  This is important because a teen with over-control issues often find that they are “on the outside” of social interactions.

To learn more about Over-Control, you can watch Robbi’s entire webinar on the CERTS Parent Education Channel at:





Co-Teaching and Relevance

An article that the Kolob Canyon and Moonridge Academy Academic Director Susan Mackert wrote and had published in the NATSAP December 2018 Newsletter/Education Edition:

Students are bored by isolated instruction. They want to be involved, hands and hearts, into relevant content that brings subjects together into real-life or fantasy scenarios (think Fortnite or Dungeons and Dragons).

Teachers at Kolob Canyon School are gamers and they know how to talk the language of our action-oriented, multi-tasking ninjas. They do this through creative projects that integrate subjects and engage the senses of their students. Our academic team devotes Wednesdays to educational activities that combine relevant content from multi-disciplines into a cumulative hands-on project that builds interest and relationships.

A favorite project is the Poetry Slam, where students present a selected poem from their favorite poet along with one of their own poems on a local stage. Teachers and administrators join in on this challenge as well, showing our students it’s never too late to try scary things. On another Wednesday we divide our students into tribes and they go through challenges, playing outside games that mimic Ancient Warfare games. A favorite is the archery competition and building catapults, with the math teacher alongside helping them figure trajectory.  Another much-loved activity starts in early September when students are assigned a region of the world and then choose a popular monster from that region to research. Our English and math teachers create an algorithm that evaluates a monsters strengths and abilities and students build posters and presentations that eventually culminates in the Monster Smash playoff held on Halloween day.

The key factor in student understanding and retention is significance. At Kolob Canyon School students are engaged in seeking, acquiring, and using knowledge in an organic way that brings life (and significance) to academics. And speaking of Dungeons & Dragons. . .last summer our English teacher, Ryan McLean (Rev) set his classes up in a gaming scenario that forms the grading backbone for every lesson. He calls it “Dungeons & Classrooms.” Essentially the students are playing an education-oriented version of “Dungeons & Dragons”. Each student creates a hero character that will be adventuring on a quest with their classmates. This hero gains more abilities and skills as the student turns in assignments on time and delves into books from the class reading list. The climax of the game happens on testing day, called “Boss Battles”. Student characters face a challenge that can only be overcome by answering test questions verbally or on the board.

Rev’s initial goal was to find a way to engage our students, many of whom have multiple layers of learning challenges. And he was successful. Students were excited for test day, which is unheard of, and homework completion rose significantly. What he also found, was retention increased as well. The choice to create meaning around our lessons does not demand perfection. It demands intention, with an eye towards improving the potential of every student. And the joy of this work lies not in predicting the future but in creating it.