PROSPECTIVE INSIGHT: A Look at the O-School’s Residential Admissions Process
Navigating the admissions process for a therapeutic school can feel like a difficult, cumbersome, and uncharted process for any parent, let alone a parent whose child is in crisis. Choosing the right residential school for a struggling child or adolescent can be a life-changing decision. The Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School — also referred to as the O-School — recognizes that everyone benefits from a clear set of steps, including a specific timeline for the admissions process. In addition, like all of the work at the O-School, careful thought and intention is put into every human interaction, and the admissions process is no different.
- Our residential admissions process typically begins with a phone call from the referring party (parent, therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, school district, or educational consultant) to the director of admissions. During this first communication, general information is shared about the child to determine whether the O-School could be helpful to the child and family. This includes determining whether there is immediate availability for the child’s age and identified gender. Then, after a description of the child or adolescent’s presenting issues, the director of admissions requests a referral packet of clinical and academic documents be submitted for a more thorough review. These documents typically include psychological testing reports, reports from the treating clinician and psychiatrist, a copy of the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), a social history, hospital discharge summaries, and any other reports that provide more detail regarding both the child’s strengths and struggles. At this stage, we are gathering information about what residential services and therapeutic treatment have been offered to date and what has or has not been helpful.
- After a careful review of the reports, the director of admissions will determine whether the candidate is appropriate for the next step — inviting the family for an in-person interview. An in-person interview provides the family with a chance to meet some members of our leadership team and to tour the school. Some residential programs accept students based solely on reports without meeting the child or adolescent and their family. However, because the O-School focuses heavily on relationships, it is important for us to meet and talk in-person with each individual applicant and their parent(s) or guardian(s). During this on-site visit, the O-School team has the chance to begin developing a relationship with the student and family. We meet each prospective family in our comfortable, home-like living room to get a deeper sense of the young person, to see how they respond to a warm and nurturing approach, and to hear about their interests and goals. It is in these initial conversations that the prospective students and their families begin to experience the caring nature and clinical expertise that the O-School has to offer.
- The initial meetings are followed by a student-led tour of the school. This allows the family to hear directly from current students about their experiences attending the O-School. Tours are offered when school is in session so the prospective family can walk into classrooms and see students and teachers engaged in learning. Prospective students and their families also visit the gymnasium and therapy suites. The final stop on the tour are our dormitories, where families can see the current students’ private living spaces while they are busy attending school. The tour concludes in the living room where any additional questions can be addressed. The O-School team requires a few days to review reports and meet as a larger admissions team before rendering an admissions recommendation and this allows the family a few days as well to discuss their impressions and determine whether they think the O-School could be an appropriate fit for their child. The director of admissions follows up with the parents after a couple days to offer either admission or recommendations for alternative programs that might be a better fit. If the admission moves forward, the director of admissions provides an enrollment packet for the family to review and complete. This packet includes more detailed information about the school and clearly outlines expectations for new students and their families.
- The day of admission arrives. This day can be complicated and challenging , so the O-School has created a time-tested and carefully orchestrated process. The director of admissions prepares the family in advance for each step so everyone knows what to expect. On a day when emotions are likely to run high, it is important for everyone to avoid unexpected surprises. The director of admissions, along with the dormitory manager and a dormitory counselor, meet the family outside the school to help them bring the new student’s belongings inside. From this very first step, we communicate that the student and family are responsible and able to do the hard work, but that our team is available to guide and support the process. Upon entering the school’s living room, the team checks-in with the family to see how the last 24 hours before admission have gone and to review the various steps for the admission. When the child is feeling comfortable, the dormitory counselor takes the child and their belongings to the dormitory for unpacking while the rest of the students from the child’s dormitory are still in school. This individual time with a dormitory counselor is important because it assures the young person that there will always be a trained and caring individual present to assist and guide them through each part of the day. It also allows the student to ask any questions while a meaningful relationship begins to develop. This relationship will be a cornerstone in the child’s treatment.
While the young person unpacks, the parents meet with the O-School’s nurse to review the student’s medical history and provide and explain the young person’s medications. In addition, a member of the finance office reviews the financial contract with the parents. At this point, the new student returns to the living room to say a private good-bye with their parents before returning to the dormitory to await the arrival of their new dormmates from school. Finally, the director of admissions and the dormitory manager meet at length with the parents to review the mental health history of the young person and family, review policies and expectations, and discuss the O-School’s visiting policy. Families are provided with a welcome packet that offers contact information for every staff member at the school and are given the opportunity to receive a phone call or email from another parent who also has a child enrolled in the O-School. While having had an emotional day, families typically leave the admission feeling a new sense of hope for their child and for the new chapter that they are going to write together.
To learn more about the O-School’s residential program, please visit our website. If you have a child or loved one who you believe may benefit from the O-School’s services, please visit our contact page here or call our director of admissions, Kristin Friesen, at 773-420-2891.