Building brighter tomorrows
for the boys of today.


After the loss of a loved one, we experience a wide assortment of emotions and feelings. The ever-changing emotions we experience with grief can catch us off guard, causing us to act out of character, or contrarily to our usual personality and manner.  Grief changes with time and circumstances. “Grief never ends… But it changes.  It’s a passage, not a place to stay.  Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith… It is the price of love.”- Author Unknown 

We all need a support system to help us as we move through our grief journey. Cherry Gulch offers a grief and loss support group for our boys.  A support group can become a valuable resource to assist in education, companionship and coping. In the support group, the boys will find new companions also living life after loss, and the support of a therapist who specializes in Grief/Loss. The grief support group offers camaraderie and understanding from others who have experienced a loss, and are experiencing the similar challenges that living with grief brings.

National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs 

The Board of Directors of NATSAP has long realized that our profession has the responsibility of providing data that examines the impact and effectiveness of therapeutic programs.  To this end NATSAP has sponsored an outcome research project in collaboration with Dr. Michael Gass at the University of New Hampshire for the past decade.  This work has resulted in a permanent data base and led to numerous conference presentations, and scholarly articles aimed at documenting the effectiveness of NATSAP programs. However, the database has relied in large part on a handful of programs who have contributed the majority of data to this effort. 

NATSAP values research and evaluation as a cornerstone of effective programming and advocacy. At Cherry Gulch, we share this belief and have made a commitment to taking part in the data collection process with our students, staff and families, gaining us the title of a Research Designated Program.  This effort ultimately helps our program as well as others to access pertinent research information and to engage in the evaluation of our programs in an effort to understand more fully the impact that we have on our youth and their families.

Parent and student participation is crucial in the data collection process.  Without the input from our students and parents both, the data is incomplete, and our research efforts do not reach their potential.  The survey process begins at the students’ enrollment and continues through one year post discharge.  We greatly appreciate the participation of our students and parents in this collective process of bettering therapeutic schools and programs nationwide.

As technology becomes an ever bigger part of almost every aspect of life, children are thrown into an environment of stimulation and instant gratification that is intuitive and exciting at an increasingly younger age. At Cherry Gulch we seek to assist our students in navigating the world of technology in a responsible way by teaching them tools that help them approach technology use with balance, maturity and integrity. As they work through our Character Development curriculum, their technology access privileges will increase hand - in - hand with progressing through our Digital Literacy education. This will allow our students to maximize lessons on responsible technology use by being able to immediately utilize their new skills in a supervised and supportive environment. As their comprehension and use of good Digital Literacy skills are developed and established, they will move on to greater freedom and more complex digital literacy issues, eventually preparing them to be citizens that can regulate their own choices and relationship with technology.

Cooperative Play Group:

Small specialized group in which students work on improving and enhancing physical, social, cognitive, and emotional development through cooperative play activities. The group is facilitated by an occupational therapist using a variety of expressive media, physical, and social modalities to provide students the opportunity to work on specific skill development. Students develop communication and socialization skills through interactive play, focusing on assertive communication, sharing, and turn taking. Additionally, students work on their ability to collaborate and compromise with others while receiving coaching on problem solving solutions to difficulties and disagreements. Sensory, gross, and fine motor components are integrated into play activities to facilitate the learning experience.

Social Skills Group:

Utilizing Michelle Garcia Winner's "Social Thinking" resources, the Committee for Children's "Second Step" curriculum, and Preparing for Life and Social Skills Training by Dr. Jed Baker, students are engaged in exciting and informative social skills development. From "Superflex" taking on the "Unthinkables" to learning skills such as taking other perspectives to role playing how to disagree respectfully students are able to increase their understanding and awareness of social norms and expectations and to increase their ability to meet those norms and expectations. And all while having fun!
Functional social skills development and execution are the foundation for getting along with others. Social skills group is co-facilitated by a licensed therapist and occupational therapist. The focus of the group includes developing healthy social skills to improve students’ ability to interact and develop relationships with others through effective communication and listening skills. Through education, experience, and training the students learn how other people think, attempt to understand other people’s points of view, and why specific social and communication skills are required in different situations

Anger-Management / Emotional Regulation Group

The anger management group consists of teaching students various components that function together to form an over all ability to manage anger in constructive rather destructive ways. The components are: helping students behaviorally define anger and anger management, non-violent communication skills training, conflict resolution training, mediation training, learning to self observe and measure anger arousal patterns and identify associated triggers, the use of journals and diaries to modify unhelpful internal dialog and reinforce positive self talk, relaxation training (i.e., deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, etc.) to address understanding and self control of physiological arousal, use of role play, systematic desensitization, stress inoculation, problem solving and assertiveness training. Various modalities are used to teach these components including psycho educational, group therapy, bibliography, experiential education and cooperative play techniques.

The group format has an open enrollment and can be structured to occur in 4, 6, 8 or 12 week blocks with repetition for remediation as needed.

Adoption Group

The teen years are a crucial time in the development of personal awareness and identity. Young people are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to become, while also striving to fit in and find their place in the world. The inherent difficulties in this process can be exacerbated by adoption. The open ended adoption support group provides a forum for addressing problematic issues or feelings that can arise and educating participants about the adoption triangle and its three main constituents.

Questions, issues and feelings about adoption are processed and discussed from the viewpoint of adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents. The association with fellow adoptees normalizes the experience and provides connections and support within the group.

The adoption group is held weekly for an hour.

Sensory Room & Occupational Therapy Services:

The sensory room offers a nurturing, student-centered sensory supportive interdisciplinary treatment space. The room is used to facilitate empowerment, self-organization, relaxation, self-awareness, sensory awareness, and self-expression/communication. The room offers a variety of sensory modalities that the students can explore and use to assist with self-regulating when they are feeling over stimulated, overwhelmed, over loaded, and/or on over drive. Contrarily, one can use the sensory room when feeling depressed, sad, tired, exhausted, etc. to assist with changing alertness levels to be able to attend to daily activities. The sensory room promotes self-awareness regarding sensory needs to assist the students with being able to maintain functional levels of alertness/self-regulation for a given situation or activity.

Leadership Group

Leadership Group is comprised of those students who have completed the first ten lessons at Cherry Gulch, possess a desire to lead their peers, and have met the requirements for entry into the group. The primary roles of group members are to be both the mentors and representatives of their student body. Members serve as the representative speakers of their peers in order to relay respectful and organized suggestions and input to the management team at Cherry Gulch. Discussions of effective mentoring skills, role models and leaders are the focus of the group process.


Requirements for Application

Applicants must present the following essay to the Leadership group and defend any questions posed by the group. The group discusses and votes on each applicant to determine appropriate level of individual responsibility and eligibility.

Complete at least a 1 pg. essay keeping the following questions in mind:

What is a mentor?

Why is it important to have mentors in our lives?

How is a mentor a positive role model and example?

How does a mentor exemplify the four core values?

What personal strengths do you offer to peers whom you might mentor?


Orient new peers to the group and program.

Serve as a positive support and example to new peers.

Provide positive influence to mentees and others, and encourage honesty and compliance.

Engage mentees on a regular basis to develop and maintain a positive relationship.

Acting As If

‘Acting as if’ means students must behave as the persons they aspire to be rather than the persons they have been in the past. Everyone makes mistakes, but intention to improve and grow is the expectation of group members.

The psychological principle that underlies acting as if is that, when individuals act in a certain way long enough, eventually the thoughts and feelings that support the behavior also will strengthen. Feelings, insights, and altered self-perceptions often follow behavior change rather than precede it (go before it).

Practicing ‘Acting as if’ you are a positive leader it will ultimately lead to your internalizing the core values, so that they become your personal strengths instead of weaknesses.

Cherry Gulch leaders are expected to demonstrate the following attributes in daily living:

Honesty in word and deed: Honest expression of emotions and reactions reveal our true self-identities to others and to ourselves.

Responsible concern for others: By observing, challenging, and supporting others we show that we care for others and for ourselves. Responsible concern is necessary for self-help and mutual self-help.

Work ethic: Self-reliance, excellence, earned rewards, and commitment enable us to become productive members of society.

Active and continuous learning: Learning about ourselves and the world strengthens our ability and resolve to maintain a positive and constructive lifestyle.

Mentors and Leaders Provide Honest, Positive Support

Hold peers accountable by calling attention to undesirable actions, attitudes, or mindsets through supportive, responsible concern.

Give and request feedback.

Give positive behaviors equal time by calling attention to positive actions at least as often as calling attention to negative actions. Look for what is being done right or correctly and magnify that behavior, or what could have been done better rather than leaving the issue on a sour or negative note.

Encourage peers to remember to ‘act as if’ they are already the person they aspire to be, rather than the persons they have been in the past.

Core Values

The four program core values are: Respect, Responsibility, Relationship, and Integrity.

These four values are the basic building blocks of a healthy and happy lifestyle, and prerequisites of fulfilling a mentoring role. Participating in the Cherry Gulch Leadership group allows you the opportunity to receive and give feedback, guidance, and support from your peers and staff while you are on your growth journey here at Cherry Gulch. Mentoring is a clearly identifiable way to show yourself and others (your peers and staff) how well you have adapted these core values and new skills into your life, and how ready you are to move on living a positive constructive lifestyle, and go home.

The group’s core values are the foundation for appropriate living. As you learn and practice these skills, your personal foundation for living will become a stable platform for you to stand on as you attempt to positively influence and support others within your helping reach. It is your responsibility to understand how these values fit into your everyday life patterns. Before leaving here, you should be able to show you understand what they all mean, and how they fit into the new lifestyle you have built for yourself while here.


Respect starts with recognizing how you have been disloyal to others. As you admit disloyalty, you begin to learn you can respect yourself. This opens the door to respecting others. Through Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) techniques, students are shown how their past maladaptive behaviors are evidences of disrespect to themselves and to others. As group members observe appropriate ways to handle frustrations and setbacks, they familiarize themselves with methods of patiently treating others with responsible concern and with respect.


Responsibility takes shape as group members come to take ownership of past mistakes and recognize the part they may have played to provoke the chaos that had surrounded them. As members assume responsibility for themselves, this extends to immediate peers, staff, and finally widens to the entire community.


Relationships are developed as the process of change unfolds. When students begin to find commonalities with others who share the same struggles, a sense of unity and purpose unfolds encouraging the development of trust, emotional risk-taking, interpersonal relationship skills, and self-healing.


Integrity overarches the other three core values and insinuates incorruptibility—maintaining a resilient, yet inflexible attitude of respect for others. Integrity is the manifestation of ones ability to stay focused on personal responsibility. It demands the welfare of others be placed before selfish wants or inappropriate needs. Integrity is evidenced by an unwavering search for peace, or that which is right in the world and tirelessly avoiding that which is wrong.

How well you adapt to providing others feedback, showing responsible concern to your peers, and to the measure you are honest with yourself, and are willing to accept responsible concern shown to you from others, is how you show progress and move through the program levels. Another measurement of how well you are learning and practicing responsible concern for your peers, group members, staff, etc., as it relates to the four program core values, is evidenced when you are not only able to express what you have learned, but how well you have internalized these values and show it by focusing on what you may give back as a mentor, rather than what you may get.

Terms of Ineligibility

Members who prove to have difficulty with following through with the responsibilities of the group or put their personal integrity into question due to actions, will be discussed and voted on for determination of loss of eligibility. Members who are found ineligible will be asked to leave the group until they can demonstrate more appropriate behavior to reapply.

Students who are found to be ineligible upon initial application will be given constructive feedback on how they can improve and be encouraged to reapply after they have demonstrated necessary improvement.

Cherry Gulch is unique in the field of therapeutic schools. We have placed all our core classes in the Monday through Thursday schedule which gives us flexibility on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays to go on weekend trips. Therapy takes place as life unfolds but we also have 10 hours of scheduled therapy per week which is not necessarily listed on the schedule. Some of the planned activities are experiential therapies like equine assisted psychotherapy initiatives and therapeutic games or recreation therapy. Students generally have the opportunity to ride horses three times a week but some students will choose other activities instead.

The Character Growth Curriculum at Cherry Gulch reinforces the concepts that students are learning and interconnects the components of the program. Our approach is unique among schools for troubled teens. The lessons are cumulative and students are required to continue to practice the habits they have learned from the lower lessons before advancing to the higher lessons. The Character Growth Curriculum can be expanded and/or individualized as needed since each lesson includes one or more target behaviors or attitudes This gives the student's therapists, teachers, and other staff members the opportunity to individualize the tasks and assignments of that lesson to fit with the identified needs of the student.

We have more lessons than most youth programs because we feel it is better to break the information we want the student to learn into smaller, more manageable pieces. We have also found that students start to get frustrated and lose motivation when it takes months to complete one lesson. Having many lessons gives us more opportunities to provide the student with positive reinforcement and encouragement. We can point out the student's strengths and the areas where there has been noticeable improvement and personal growth. The student's self-efficacy for completing the program improves, increasing his motivation to continue to do well. His self-esteem begins to improve, he experiences success and is able to see how his hard work is paying off.

The lessons provide the students with reminders about what they are working on and give them opportunities for discussion in therapy about their thoughts, emotions, behaviors, family, school, and their personal life. The lessons also provide students with opportunities to practice what they are learning so, eventually, they actually become healthy habits that will benefit the student for life.

Many of the lessons contain principles from:

  •  Sean Covey's books, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens" and "The 6 Most Important Decisions You'll Ever Make."
  •  Dr. Michelle Borba's book, "Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues That Teach Kids To Do The Right Thing."
  •  Dr. Thomas Lickona's book, "Educating For Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect And Responsibility."
  •  Doctors Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson's book, "Raising Cain: Protecting The Emotional Life Of Boys."
  •  Dr. William Pollack's book, "Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons From The Myths Of Boyhood."
  •  Michael Gurian's book, "The Wonder Of Boys: What Parents, Mentors And Educators Can Do To Shape Boys Into Exceptional Men."
  •  Good old fashioned values and morals.

As students advance through the lessons they earn more freedom and privileges.
These include

  •  They are able to go off campus and then on home visits.
  •  They are given first pick of chores and electives.
  •  They can earn extra phone time.
  •  They are allowed to enter 1st into the camp store to spend tokens and go through the meal lines first.
  •  They get more responsibility and are trusted to take care of the larger animals.
  •  They can also help staff plan activities and can pick and plan a trip within reason.

As they advance through the lessons they earn the right to wear certain items that denote their achievement.

This proven program is designed to give problem teens a glimpse into how the real work works and show them the value of a hard day’s work.

Parents are vital to our program and to the future success of our students.  Research indicates that therapeutic programs that maximize parental involvement have better long-term success.  The positive life skills students have learned in the program are more generalizable to their family and school functioning if parents were involved in their treatment.  Cherry Gulch allows more and quicker contact with parents than most residential programs.  Parents are taught the same program that defines our milieu so that when the student returns home a successful program is already in place that both parent and child understands.  Our staff provides parents with weekly updates regarding their child’s progress.  When therapeutically indicated family therapy sessions will be conducted via video conferencing. 

Parents are encouraged to call their son, write to him, and to visit him at the program.  When parents visit Cherry Gulch they have the option of camping out with their son in one of our tepees or covered wagons.  Parents are required to attend a three-day parenting workshop once each quarter.  The workshop provides parent training, strategies, support, and help with setting up the positive parenting plan their son’s are participating in at the school back home.  Parenting workshops also include bonding exercises for parents and sons, family therapy sessions, corrective emotional experiences, and opportunities for building positive memories.  The final day of the workshop includes a special event that students have prepared for their parents.  It may be a trail ride, a youth rodeo, a play put on by the students, a camp out, a whitewater rafting trip, or any number of other activities.  Parental support does not end when students leave the program as we have staff available to provide support, answer questions, and identify resources, even after students return home.

Students are not required to attend church services or activities but they are encouraged to. Spirituality has been shown to be an important aspect of mental health and, for many people, it is an important coping skill as well as an additional support system for struggling students. Students who would like to attend religious services can go to church with staff members.

Good values and morals will be taught and guest speakers may be invited from many different backgrounds and faiths. They will be expected to keep their sermons non-denominational in nature and to speak about topics that will be enriching to all students. Staff members who desire to contribute to the Cherry Gulch community will be allowed to lead small-group study and/or prayer meetings with students of the same faith. If requested, students who have a religious background different from that of our staff or of the churches in the local area will be transported to Boise - or to another nearby community - once a month to attend religious services consistent with the student’s faith. Alternately, a spiritual mentor from that faith will be invited to visit the student on-campus.

At Cherry Gulch we understand that spirituality is an important part of life and wellness. We remain open minded about other’s religious and spiritual practices and are careful to respect one another’s beliefs. Students are allowed to choose the level of involvement they have in the spiritual and or religious activities available to them while at Cherry Gulch. Our staff members come from a broad range of spiritual beliefs and backgrounds and we do not attempt to convert students. We simply want to respect the student's values and beliefs and to help them mature and grow.

In addition to horses, Cherry Gulch also has a number of small and mid sized animals for students to care for and interact with such as dogs, goats, sheep, a rabbit, chickens, and sometimes turkeys, or pigs.

Not all boys boarding schools offer animal assisted psychotherapy like Cherry Gulch. Taking care of animals can be therapeutic and petting them is soothing. Cherry Gulch has several therapeutic dogs. Elmo (a mix) was rescued from an animal shelter. Patty (a Great Pyranese) is a guardian dog and she protects the boys and the other animals. Sam in a very mellow Black Lab and Zoe is an energetic Boxer. Our dogs have mild temperaments, are loving, patient, and encouraging. It is hard to stay upset when a friendly, concerned, dog walks over wagging his or her tail and licks you. A number of scientific studies have documented the therapeutic influence animals have on people.

Staff members who are trained experts in animal care supervise the animal facilities and make sure that the animals are being cared for appropriately. They also teach the students about the animals and how to care for them. There is also an abundance of wildlife around campus.

Camp Stanley is a “base camp to adventure” for Cherry Gulch students. Groups of students spend a week at a time at Camp Stanley during the summer. It is a fully equipped rustic base camp located in the breathtakingly beautiful Sawtooth Mountains. There are numerous activities and opportunities available to students at Camp Stanley including horseback rides, backpacking, whitewater rafting, fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, biking, photography, soaking in natural hot springs, scenic back road drives, trips to the ghost town, museum, gold dredge, or a day trip to Sun Valley.

Camp Stanley is also an excellent outdoor classroom and a great place for students to enjoy the largest wilderness area in the continental United States. The excellent therapeutic services provided at Cherry Gulch continue while students are at camp.