Special Subcommittee on Residential Academies for At-Risk Students in Virginia

December 7, 1999, Richmond

Residential Schools

The special subcommittee of the House Committee on Education studying residential academies for at-risk students (HJR 538) received testimony from representatives of a number of Virginia residential schools.
Elk Hill Farm
Elk Hill Farm in Goochland, soon to celebrate its 30th anniversary, provides special and alternative education to pupils ages 11 to 18 in residential and day treatment programs. Students who are at Elk Hill primarily for academic reasons often demonstrate English, mathematics, and reading proficiencies three to four grade levels lower than their peers. Reduced class sizes, often with only six to 10 pupils, offer greater individualized attention for these students. Also noted as significant to a successful residential program are behavioral modification protocols and modalities to assist students in making "positive changes in the way they act and think."

Reflecting Elk Hill's emphasis on family involvement are its individual family sessions with teachers and counselors and family support groups. These practices are designed to facilitate the pupil's transition into the home, community, and public school and to address various family situations that may negatively affect the student's progress. Regular peer group meetings for pupils who have exited Elk Hill also aid in aftercare efforts to reinforce behavioral and academic changes incorporated in the residential experience.

While Elk Hill receives referrals through the Comprehensive Services Act (CSA), social services and mental health agencies, school and judicial systems, and self-referrals, the majority of its students are funded through the CSA. Private sources may fund scholarships, capital improvements, and the aftercare component. The annual per pupil cost is $55,000.

Charterhouse School
Charterhouse School, located in Richmond, was founded nearly 100 years ago, initially as an orphanage. The school is affiliated with United Methodist Family Services and provides independent living services for males exiting correctional facilities. Many of the Charterhouse students have experienced from five to eight out-of-home placements prior to entering the school. Eighty-five percent of its female students and 65 percent of its male students have a history of sexual abuse. Like Elk Hill, Charterhouse stresses transition to home and community as a primary goal, and includes a strong aftercare initiative. Smaller classes and a low pupil-teacher ratio are credited with helping Charterhouse students progress two months academically for each month spent in the residential program.

Longitudinal studies indicate that students in residential schools improve immediately in academics, report a greater sense of personal control, and continue to receive higher grades than pupils in community-based services. Further, there is a direct correlation between longer periods spent in residential settings and improved performance. Charterhouse receives 80 percent of its funding through public dollars and 20 percent through the Methodist church and grants from foundations. Having recently been accredited, the school will be eligible for Medicaid funding as of January 1, 2000. Foster care also figures prominently at Charterhouse; foster care families receive the same training as Charterhouse residential staff. Sixty-five percent of Charterhouse students go through foster care.

Virginia Home for Boys
Having completed the transition from an orphanage to a residential education setting, the Virginia Home for Boys currently enrolls 26 students, 60 percent of whom are privately-placed or scholarship students. Half of its students still attend public schools.
Boys Home in Covington
The Boys Home in Covington incorporated a 30- to 60-day evaluation period that includes home-bound instruction. Approximately half of these students will then advance to independent living skills. Students participate in experiential apartment-living on campus. They must earn their own incomes, have jobs, and receive only one meal per week at the facility's dining hall. The Boys Home has no formalized aftercare program but assists students in pursuing higher education. Although the home has no family care development component as yet, it does provide a continuum of services to assist those students whose families may not welcome them back home. Funded primarily by endowment and private moneys, the Boys Home charges $20 per day for an agency-placed student. A sliding scale governs fees for privately placed pupils, who comprise 70 percent of Boys Home enrollments. The average age of its 54 students is 14 years.

Committee Action

Following a brief discussion, the special subcommittee concluded its meeting by agreeing on the following recommendations:

The Honorable Anne G. Rhodes, Chair
Legislative Services contact: Kathleen G. Harris