Youth Villages Inner Harbour
The most incredible on-site visit of my career!
It was a perfect fall day. I stood on the narrow paved road that threaded its way around the campus. It created a tunnel through the thousands of trees covering the property. The ground was carpeted in a thick layer of leaves, and the treetops were ablaze with intense reds, yellows and oranges. When the sun shone on them they almost looked as though they were on fire. The silence was broken only by the quiet conversations of an occasional small group of students and teachers traveling from one building to another. During my three days there you could often hear the AmeriCorps volunteers training in the West African Drumming class. Just behind me was the magnificent yurt where the drumming classes are held. Nearby was the students' vegetable garden and the kennels for the residential dogs.
I was privileged to spend three days at the Youth Villages Inner Harbour Campus. It is one of Georgia’s largest residential treatment programs for seriously emotionally disturbed children and youth. It is situated on 1,200 acres covered with trees; there are two small lakes where students learn canoeing and conduct environmental water studies. The students also enjoy the equine therapy and work with the therapy dogs. And they enjoy hiking, camping and going "caving"! The campus also has a wonderful sports field, running track, playgrounds and hiking trails.
I spent time visiting classrooms, talking with teachers and students. Several students were anxious to show me their Microsoft PowerPoint presentations from an interdisciplinary project on a famous artist; they would be presenting these to classes at the University of Georgia the next week. Their presentations also included identification of the State of Georgia content standards - as does every student project.
So many features of this school were incredible. On the first day I participated in a yoga class! Later I joined 20 new AmeriCorps volunteers in their West African Drumming training - and I learned how to play! One of the teachers, Ben Maynard, took me to see the labyrinth that the students built; it was next to a beautiful stream which had a student-built bridge across it. Very impressive! The school utilizes the Leonard Bernstein Artful Learning Program. Evidence of their studies in art were everywhere, from life size wooden sculptures of horses to rock balancing sculptures.
Here is one of several bridges
built by the students.
Here are some examples of the incredible products the students create as part of their
quite rigorous interdisciplinary units. Rock balancing.
The sculpture of the horse below is life size. These projects were done after extensive
interdisciplinary studies of and visits by famous artists. The painted horse and the sculpture
are both products of a study on anatomy.
The students are here because they have behavioral and emotional challenges. While I saw great things happening in the classrooms and around the campus, there were also periodic incidents. The counselors and teachers handled these situations calmly and professionally, always demonstrating great care and respect.
It seemed to me that this would cause incredible amounts of stress for the teachers. However, the culture at Inner Harbour Youth Villages is incredible - - very positive, caring, high energy, and high levels of trust and creativity. The teachers credit their principal, Dr. Penny Honeycutt; and Penny credits the teachers.
The faculty and staff were not only very caring and passionate about their work, they also were some of the very best teachers I had ever met. Most of the teachers have Master's degrees; they have the highest levels of certification in several areas, in special education, in their respective discipline or specialization, and every teacher is certified as a Highly Qualified Teacher.
The curriculum is integrated, project-based, and focused on authentic (not simulated) problems. They utilize an experiential model that integrates service-learning, artful expression, environmental awareness and opportunities for personal growth. The West African Drumming is one of the most popular classes, and the students perform publicly in and around Atlanta. They have performed for former President Jimmy Carter, as well as at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., the Lincoln Center in New York, and they have been invited to perform at the Summer Olympics in London in 2012.
Their other programs include Animal Assisted Therapy in which students work with the dogs or participate in the equine therapy program.
During the professional development workshop the faculty and staff were energetic, intelligent and creative. They gave their all in every activity, and were extremely enthusiastic about everything presented to them. This faculty would be any principal's dream!
It is easy to see why the Harvard Business Review stated that Youth Villages "programs have a success rate three times greater than those of state-run programs, achieved at one-third of the cost. It delivers this nine-fold advantage consistently across the seven states in which it operates."
Last, but certainly not least, the people at Inner Harbour treated me to several days of the most gracious hospitality. I didn't stay with any one person as I was touring the school, talking with students and teachers - but there was always someone to ensure that I had every little thing I needed.
An extra bonus: In addition to the wonderment at the school, Penny (Dr. Honeycutt), the principal, took me to visit Serenbe, a new 1,000 acre community focusing on land preservation, agriculture, energy efficiency, green building, walkability, high density building, arts and culture, and community living for multiple generations. Serenbe Farms supplies the fresh produce for their restaurants.
Youth Villages Inner Harbour has an extraordinary school!