While children across America head back to school, be it traditional public schools, private schools, home schools, or online schools, youth in residential treatment centers (RTCs) face a different kind of back-to-school experience. Youth in RTCs receive education services in a therapeutic environment with structured schedules that include a combination of educational, recreational, and clinical activities.

Teachers in RTC education programs face a number of unique challenges such as students’ negative preconceived notions about school and having to teach a variety of different subjects to students at diverse learning levels. They are part of the resident’s interdisciplinary treatment team that includes psychiatrists, nurses, counselors, case workers, and mental health technicians. The setting allows residents to continue their education while also learning and practicing problem solving, healthy coping skills, and adaptive behaviors, and receiving therapeutic services, in a safe and structured setting.

Red River Youth Academy, an RTC for adolescent males in Norman, Okla., provides on-site weekday education services to residents in partnership with Norman Public Schools (NPS). Residents are evaluated by certified educators and individualized educational programs are developed for each student.  The RTC’s educational program consists of five hours of school every weekday. With a maximum student-to-teacher ratio of 12:1, educators are able to not only help the students learn but also teach them how to learn.

One of the educational goals is to help residents keep pace with their peers. Education credits earned by residents transfer to their home schools upon discharge. Red River Youth Academy residents who have gotten behind in their education have access to Odessyware, a flexible, online program that helps students master subjects, recover their credits, and catch up to their appropriate education level.

Youth with behavioral and emotional conditions benefit from attending school in a different environment and receiving the structure, professional support, and guidance needed to adopt healthier behavior patterns that will help them function better at home and in the classroom.