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Discovery Ranch - Learning With A Purpose

By Jennifer C. Jones

There are no bells, no lockers, no football teams or cheerleaders. But that is not what makes school at Discovery Ranch different from other academic institutions.

            “One of the great strengths of the ranch is the ratio of adults to students,” says Clinton Dorny, Executive Director.  “In the classroom the ratio is five to one, or less.  There is a lot of one on one instruction and all of the programs are self-paced and individualized.”

            Dorny says a traditional classroom setting of 30 students is extremely difficult for what he calls “lost or troubled students.” “If they’re with that teacher for an hour, the most the teacher could spend is about a minute with each student.”

            “We have an opportunity for students to bond with a variety of adults who offer them encouragement, insight, and assistance,” Dorny explains.  “They’re not going to get that in a normal school setting.”

            Clinton says because Discovery Ranch focuses on therapeutic interventions, many parents are surprised at the quality and depth of academic offerings available to their students.  Eleven certified teachers, along with two testing proctors, 3-4 tutors and six mentors work one on one with students teaching math, social studies, English, and science. In addition to the core curriculum, students may take electives that include calculus, chemistry, foreign language, and music.

            The school day typically runs Monday through Friday from 2:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.  Each course is taught by a licensed educator and study time is built into the class schedule.

            Friday’s are generally reserved for experiential activities. “That’s either an on-campus learning activity for all students or a special off-campus activity for students who have earned the right to leave,” Dorny notes.

            Past experiential activities have included trips to the planetarium, city council meetings, volunteer work in the community, theater or music performances, or athletic events.

            Guest speakers at the ranch covered topics such as running your own business, military life and careers, and a zoologist who enthralled students with a live python.

“We’re only limited to the imagination of the teaching staff,” Dorny says.

The Discovery Ranch academics are provided by Discovery Academy, a nationally accredited Clinical Boarding School.       

            In addition to therapeutic evaluations and treatment plans, every Discovery Ranch student has an academic evaluation. Students, teachers, parents, educators and therapists all give input and the education department creates an individual education plan for each student. 

Teachers at the ranch try to keep students as close to grade level as possible. That makes it easier for them to transition back to mainstream schools when their Discovery experience is over.

Certified special education teachers are also on staff to provide assistance to students with additional learning challenges.

            Clinton says the ranch helps students make new discoveries about their academic abilities as well as their behavioral issues. “A light goes on,” he explains. Students see their educational experience in a whole different way. “They go from saying, ‘I’m never going to graduate from high school or go beyond’ to saying, ‘I can do this. I can graduate and I can go on.’”

            “A lot of our students have been outstanding students but they just had difficulty with life,” he says. “We’re putting them back on track for them to maximize their full academic potential – not just get good grades.”

            “Ultimately, that’s the whole purpose of the ranch,” he says. “To give students the skill sets they may not have received in a more traditional setting.”


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