To address the common problem of regression (a return to pre-enrollment misbehaviors) after graduation from residential programs, we have inserted a practice “transition” into the last stage of MA’s program. In 2002 we bought two spacious houses, one block apart, in a leafy neighborhood in Kalispell, and asked Gretchen Boyer, a veteran team-leader, to direct a new final stage of the MA program for older (17-18) Star and Sky clan students. Since then most senior students finish their MA careers by moving from the ranch to live in town in the Boys’ and Girls’ Sky Houses.
This transition from a protected ranch community, a move back to what students call “the real world,” provides ample challenges. All Sky House students enroll in college classes at the Community College. All take internships or volunteer jobs, e.g., in a bakery, elementary school or coffee shop. At the house they clean for themselves. They shop and cook the evening meals for one another.
There is plenty of support. They meet weekly with their own therapists. They talk with MA’s senior clinicians, who come to town to chair Sky House groups. But the point is for students to handle problems and risks themselves. And so Sky House students meet regularly to sort out problems, do chores, and make communal decisions. In groups there is a lot to talk about: loneliness, lack of motivation, indiscipline, poor cooperation, the temptations of cigarettes, sex, drugs and alcohol. Sky House staff keep watch, but even in a small Montana town students face the same temptations, distractions and opportunities as other college students. For teenagers who soon will depart for colleges and universities, this is a practice run at independent, communal living with trusted adults available to supervise, teach, guide, and help with inevitable problems.
For parents, too, Sky House is a transitional learning experience, and so MA conducts parent work-shops for Sky House parents. Students are expected to stay in touch with parents by phone or email, and so parents again provide needed parental recognition and limit-setting. Parents and staff help Sky House students to face mistakes squarely and transform them into opportunities for reflection and growing-up. In this enterprise staff and parents guide and support, but restrain themselves from controlling students, making decisions for them, or rescuing them from consequences.
At the end of this experience—ideally two semesters—students graduate and go on to the next stage in their lives, which they have carefully planned.