FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q     Why is your school in Samoa?
A    The Academy’s location in Samoa is key to the healing process your child will experience. As we are all acutely aware, life in America can be hectic and confusing. For all that is good about our nation, there are many dynamics that tend to compromise the developmental progress of our youth. If the youth is struggling already, these dynamics only intensify.
Removed from an environment and culture that may contribute to the breakdown of values, respect and responsibility, Samoa provides a calming influence like no other location. Not only is Samoa beautiful, it is unhurried and uncluttered. It’s distance and “different ness” from all that our children are used to, serves in many useful ways. First and perhaps foremost, our students are unable to “recreate” the negative environments, which have either created or contributed to their problems. Unlike almost every program located state side, the students of A Better Way must come to terms with a situation which is completely foreign to their life experiences. Consequently, they are forced to develop new strategies and skills. That’s when we have them where we want them! Also, the remote, island setting makes it virtually impossible for our students to run away. Therefore, the same energy and resources that other programs must use to prevent runaways, we are able to use in other, more productive areas.
Finally, the culture of Samoa is extremely therapeutic in addressing the issue of egocentrism in adolescents. What this means is the sense of being the “center of the universe” that many of our American teenagers experience, and which often stands in the way of their development, is not reinforced within the structures of the Samoan culture. The student is introduced to” Fa’asamoa” (the Samoan culture) which is based on respecting elders and ensuring the well being of the immediate family, it also helps instill a sense of self-esteem and self pride. Interestingly enough, in Samoa, the individual system is the least important. Instead, in terms of order of significance, one would start with the family, move to the village and, lastly, would come the individual.
For a youth to have a chance to live in and be apart of a community that has no hunger, no homeless, no unwanted children and yet does not have much wealth or substance, is an experience that forever will change that youth’s life.
Robert Louis Stevenson, the well traveled author who made his final home is Samoa sensed this atmosphere for change when he said, “...no other part of the world exerts the same power upon the visitor.”
Q     What is Samoa like, will my child be safe there?
A    Samoa is a small group of islands cradled in the center of Polynesia. The island of Upolu, where our campus is located, is Samoa’s chief island and hosts the nation’s capitol, international airport, industry, business, attractions, visitor facilities, and 71% of the total population. Physically, it’s rather like Tahiti on a smaller scale with high verdant mountains in the background of Apia and a seaside boulevard encircling the harbor. It is also the final resting place of the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson, who spent his last years living in Samoa.
The Samoan people are a warm and friendly people who welcome their visitors. They are laid back and are very easy to associate with. They have enjoyed immensely the opportunity to become an important part in our students’ lives. Many of our students’ become very attached to their Samoan friends, and continue to stay in touch with them after leaving the school.
In today’s world, one could not find a safer, more stable environment in which to have their child make their temporary home which would enable him to and redirect his efforts into changing his life and becoming a happier, more productive person.
Q     Sending my child to Samoa raises questions about my ability to communicate on a regular basis with my child and the staff. How does your program approach this issue?
A    Today we find ourselves living in a “Global “world. When it comes to communication, consultants and parents have told us that our communications well exceed many of the stateside programs. We know that parents can be nervous about the distance their child is from them. Because of this, we understand the importance of and maintaining regular contact. Your son and all of our staff can be reached via telephone, fax, email and regular mail. You will have a bi- weekly call with your son’s therapist, your son will also be part of that call after his initial settling in period (the therapist will advise you on his participation) this is your family therapy session. Additionally, you will have a weekly call with the program director and your son to talk about progress in other areas of the program. Our therapists and parents can communicate during the week via email on an as needed basis. We frequently send pictures via the Internet, so that you can see how you son is doing. You will receive a written update (monthly) from the therapist and teacher regarding your son’s progress in the program. We also have staff stateside that is available to answer basic, non- therapeutic questions. We really do all we can to make sure this is not an issue you need to worry about!
Q     Can you really offer us the things that our son needs?
A    We really believe that we can! Your son will have the opportunity to work on his issues with qualified; licensed staff (remember that our professional/therapeutic staff are specifically trained to work with your son). He can receive school credit for the work that he accomplishes. He will experience a new culture and mature in so many ways, by learning to look at life through a “different pair of glasses”. One major benefit also is the fact that we can provide our services at a lower cost, because our overhead costs are lower in Samoa.
Q     How long has the school been operating in Samoa?
A    Our first student was enrolled in February of 1996. We feel very much at home on the island and have formed many great relationships with the people and the government there. We also maintain regular contact with the American Consulate on the island. American government officials, including the U.S. Ambassador, are regular visitors to our campus.
Q     Do you follow similar standards set in place by therapeutic schools and programs in the USA?
A    Most definitely! The Coral Reef Academy is a registered school in Samoa. The professional staff at the Coral Reef Academy are all licensed and/or certified in their respective disciplines and receive any needed supervision on site by licensed professionals. Our therapists are all, at least, masters level people and are licensed. We are not located in Samoa in any effort to provide less than the most professional services. We are there to offer our students a multi-cultural, educational and therapeutic experience unrivaled anywhere in the world.
Q     Is your school a “Boot Camp”
A    A Better Way's Coral Reef Academy is not a “boot camp”, "lock down" facility or a juvenile detention center. It is a therapeutic treatment center, providing a nurturing environment with structure and supervision. A Better Way will never withhold food, sleep, shelter, therapy, or activities as part of a behavior management system. We do not engage in punishments such us wall staring, mechanical restraints, seclusion rooms, or any form of deprivation.
Q     What have parents and students said about your school?
A     From a Student
For a long time I tried to do school work but was unsuccessful. There was always something blocking me from success. I knew that I was capable of succeeding, if I just would do the work, but for some reason I did not do it. When I would force myself to do the work, and study, I would get A's. This proved that the ability was there, but the motivation and self-confidence was not. Something was blocking me from doing my work at night and studying for my tests. Just as the night brings darkness, I too was in the dark as to what my block was.
Something had to give, and that something was me. I needed to find myself; I needed to make a change in my life. Consequently, I was introduced to an educational consultant. She turned me on to a little known island in the South Pacific, called Samoa. There was a school there for kids like me. These kids all had the right core values, objectives and other "right stuff" to make it, but for some reason or another they were not. This place is known as the Coral Reef Academy. At CRA twenty students live and work together, with appropriate administrative, educational, and peer/community support, each with the common goal of helping himself.
With that goal in mind, I arrived at CRA. I observed that it was not yet time for me to do school work. I had other things to complete before I was ready for that step. The work I needed to complete was the kind called life work; work that prepared me for life and being a man. Being at CRA and being in the exemplary Samoan culture, served as a perfect platform for my work. While there, I learned about myself. Not only did I learn what I had to offer as a person, but I also learned what was good about Tom K. It helped me to gain the confidence in my abilities that I knew were there but just blocked for some reason. Being in this objective and problem-solving environment was the key to my success. In all areas that caused turmoil in my life, I had to solve the problem. I had to get to the bottom of them and "fix" them. School was no exception to this. With the help of the tutors and teachers there, I got over my school phobia. Simply put, my year at CRA opened doors for me. It broke down the barrier that was blocking me from the success that I experience today.
From A Parent:
It is fitting that I write to you on Mother's Day, for I couldn't help but think about my son Daniel who is enrolled in A Better Way in Western Samoa, and the wonderful time we had with him there just three short weeks ago. Although he was not with me in body today, he was definitely with me in spirit - especially as he has sent me a poem he had written for me as his Mother's Day gift.
It had been eight months since we had seen our son, during which time we had all been working hard on a variety of fronts - especially Daniel. ABW encourages parents to hold off on visiting their children until they achieve Level 3, because, until that time, the young men are not allowed off the property without staff. Level 3 focuses on development of a post-program plan by the young man, in conjunction with his family. As part of our discussion with our educational consultant, we realized that a step-down program would be best for our son, who until then had thought he would return home directly.
We went to Samoa with high anxiety because Daniel was angry and disappointed with this news, and we did not want to have our week with him ruined. We ended up having the best week with him that I can remember. We found the Treatment Team members very kind, thoughtful, caring and dedicated. We met with them as a group within two hours of our arrival. They were respectful of us, and of each other, and seemed to genuinely appreciate one another and get along well as a team.
After greeting Daniel on the campus, he took us on a tour of the property and introduced us to each young man in the program. They each looked to be in good health, and were calm and respectful. They seemed to get along well. Many of the "line staff" spending time with our boys are native Samoans. The boys each seemed to feel comfortable with the staff's presence during our tour of campus, they gave the boys and our family enough distance to have a private conversation. The staff all seemed friendly yet watchful - anticipating a need such as bringing a chair, while being very courteous and respectful to the boys.
We were on campus three other times that week. Once, we were there for three hours - before, during, and after a "fia fia" - graduation ceremony. Our son made sure he would be back on campus in time for dance practice, because part of the fia fia is their performance of native Samoan dances. We were pleased by his sense of responsibility, and gladly obliged.
At the fia fia, we had an opportunity to see all of the students and all of the staff at one time interacting together. It was a special, warm, caring time. It was apparent that ABW has created a community of its own – one with calm, respectful, loving adults modeling wonderful behavior, and good therapists and teachers to guide the process. After the fia fia, we did some videotaping of the campus. Daniel did some taping himself, which we watched last week. He had taped two Samoan staff members who were special to him!
During one afternoon, we took one of Daniel's friends off campus to swim at the hotel and then eat pizza with us. This boy was extremely polite, earnest, and well behaved. His parents had visited him twice before.
While the kitchen is simply outfitted, the food we saw prepared at several meals was fresh and tasty. At the fia fia, we had a chance to eat the food and found it as good as what we would expect at any potluck or picnic gathering. It was clear that although Samoan food items are part of the menu, the cooks try to accommodate a wide variety of preferences. When our son was home, he made poor food choices, as many teens do, even though healthy nutritious food was presented. He seemed to be more willing to try new foods, and on his own made much better food choices at restaurants. Overall, he felt that the food was fine.
At no time did we see any staff member act in any way other than sensitive, caring, and thoughtful. They seemed to genuinely like our boys, and each other, and were proud of their country. The campus is located in a physically beautiful setting, right on the ocean. The new school building is wonderful, and is now open (when we were there, they were waiting for final permits). The rooms and offices are simple and functional. They are in keeping with the community as a whole, if not better than the living quarters of most Samoans.
The addition of a Parent Liaison is a good one. We have found this change to be a good one and a great help to us in facilitating our trip.
My husband and I are grateful for the dedication of the people at ABW.
They are providing a wonderful program that has the added benefit of learning about another culture as part of the curriculum. We believe that parents make the best choices for their children with the guidance of a skilled and qualified educational consultant. If an educational consultant believes ABW is a good "fit" for a young man, we would not hesitate to recommend it.
Q     Is Coral Reef Academy a holiday resort? Will my child be expected to work hard in addressing his issues?
A    As you can imagine, having our school on the beautiful island of Upolu, Samoa has many positive and wonderful aspects to it. Some may worry that we are a vacation resort - not so! Our highly structured program means that the students are busy and occupied all of the time.
It would be neglectful on our part, however, if we didn’t let our students "experience" life in Samoa. Every effort is made, from school instruction to real life experiences, and off-campus activities to show our youth the beauties of the island and to experience the culture. An example would be a visit to the Robert Louis Stevenson home, where the famous author spent the last years of his life living among the Samoan people who he referred to as "some of God’s sweetest creations." The Samoan people certainly thought a lot of him as well, fondly calling him “Tusi Tala", meaning the teller of tales.
Q     What are the facilities like? What sort of environment will my child be living in?
A    These are good questions to ask. You should know that our facilities are very practical and functional. We do have all the modern day conveniences in the student’s rooms. On our campuses, we have phone and fax capabilities and in general, communication works just fine. However, because we are on an island in the South Pacific which, is still developing in some ways compared to American standards, we do experience an odd hiccup here and there. For example, if we have sustained stormy weather our phone lines may go down for a short period of time, or the water pipes may spring a leak because of all the rain added pressure. These problems are usually easily fixed in a relatively short period of time. Understandably they can cause some anxiety for parents, but be assured that we do all in our power to correct these little mishaps, and know they are not life threatening.
Q     What is the medical care like in Samoa?
A    Routine medical care is available to all students. We have a full-time registered nurse on campus and contracted physicians to oversee the physical health of the youth. As parents, you should know that routine medical care in Samoa works very well. Some specialized and extreme emergency care is not of the standard you are used to in the USA. As a result, students with a history of high maintenance medical care in specialized areas should not be considered for enrollment to the Academy. All new students undergo an admission physical by a local physician.
Students that are currently on medications should arrive at the Academy with a three (3) month supply to avoid any possible interruptions in administering the prescribed medication. The Academy staff will notify you when to refill the prescription and send it to Samoa. (This pertains only, to medications that are not available on the island).
In the event that your son requires emergency care, it will be handled immediately and you will be notified of the circumstances as soon as possible. After that, you will be kept appraised of your child’s condition. Emergency care is typically handled at the National Hospital, or MedCen, a private hospital, in the capital city of Apia.
Routine dental care is also available on the island.
THE SENIOR STAFF
Tafuamaseafa Breda Tipi-Faitua, B. A. Dip Public Sector Management, Diploma Teaching (N. Z.), Program Director
Tafuamaseafa Breda Tipi-Faitua, is of Samoan and Tongan descent, born in Auckland New Zealand and is married with three daughters. She received her primary and high school education, while living in Western Samoa. She is a graduate of the University of the South Pacific, Auckland College of Education and Massey University (Palmerston North, New Zealand). Her areas of expertise are English language and literature, and Public Sector Management. She started her teaching career at the top government high school “Samoa College". Where she taught English language and literature from junior to senior high school level. Mrs. Faitua has been the chief examiner for the national Western Samoan school certificate English exam since 1993. She became the head of the National University of Samoa’s English department in early 1994. Mrs. Faitua was bestowed the chiefly title: “Tafuamaseafa” in 1986 from her maternal side. As a Samoan women with a title, she is very much in touch with her culture. She is a product of change brought through western contact. It is however, allowed her to embrace, appreciate and experience the best of both traditional and western worlds.
Julie C. Elliott, LMSW-ACP, LMFT, Clinical Director.
Julie Elliott is from Houston, Texas. She obtained her Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Houston in 1990 and is a Licensed Master Social Worker - Advanced Clinical Practitioner (LMSW-ACP) in the state of Texas. Julie also holds licensure as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in Texas. She is currently on a leave of absence from a social work doctoral program to take advantage of the opportunity to work at the Coral Reef Academy in Samoa.
While researching ABW and the Coral Reef Academy, Ms. Elliott was pleased to discover a treatment philosophy that closely mirrored her own with an emphasis on personal safety, therapeutic exploration and insight as well as community participation and responsibility. She has twelve years of clinical experience and has worked extensively in the areas of adolescent and substance abuse treatment.
Richard John, B.Sc., MPA Education Director.
Mr. Richard John is the Director of Education. His professional background is in education. Richard is a fully trained teacher from the United Kingdom. He completed his under-graduate work at Liverpool John Moore’s University. Whilst in England he had the opportunity to teach pupils of a wide range of socio-economic status for three years in the cities of Birmingham and Liverpool. Richard then decided to take up the challenge of working with special needs adolescents at ABW in Samoa. He decided to further his education by completing a Masters of Public Administration with an emphasis on education administration in the USA, after which he returned to ABW and Samoa.
Bob Oleskevich, MA, LPC, Program Therapist.
Mr. Oleskevich is married and has 3 sons of his own. So he has some direct personal experience as well as professional experience working with teenage boys. Bob has a Masters degree in Counseling and is licensed in the State of Colorado as a Licensed Professional Counselor. He has a number of years experience working with adolescents, in a residential treatment center setting, doing outpatient and emergency work for a mental health center and in private practice.