Many people in the Quad-cities aren't aware of a residential school out Highway 89A on the way to Jerome. Mingus Mountain Academy sits back in the hills with its classrooms, dormitories, cafeteria, gym, chapel and equine program.
Its residents are 112 girls from just about every county in California and Arizona, and also from New Mexico, Texas, Nevada and Michigan, said Dr. Franki Reddick-Gibson, clinical director of MMA.
This month, the Academy will open a new 18-bed dormitory.
"I think that speaks to what we're doing here," Reddick-Gibson said.
The Academy offers education, counseling and skills that students will take with them when they return to their home or other residence. It has 24-hour nursing care, a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a psychiatrist nurse practitioner on duty, and five special education teachers on staff. A higher than average percentage of girls have educational issues, Reddick-Gibson said.
"Girls come to us two to four years behind whether it's because they were not going to school or they were not making it in the mainstream classroom. Our curriculum is self-paced, they can work at their own speed," she said. "We're doing a lot of great work here."
Dentist Mike Harper and hygienist Donna Tofte come up to the school once a month to clean teeth and provide services, charging what Reddick-Gibson called "so little, it's like a donation." They treat about 12 girls per visit.
It is the medical, dental and eye care services that the girls said was one of the best things about MMA.
"Anything you need, they take care of you ASAP," "Carmen" said. She was tested for HIV (came back negative) and also saw an "eye doc" for much needed glasses.
The equine program is optional, and most girls are involved in their first four months. They learn about grooming, saddling, and riding in the arena.
"It's pretty cool for somebody who has time for the program, like the GED students," Carmen said. She was in the equine program but her grandparents in Texas want her to graduate by age 18, so she is using more of her time for studies.
The library is temporarily housed in an empty room with books organized on rolling carts. Reddick-Gibson said they are looking for shelving and would love to see more books in the library. She heads up a book club for about 30 girls on the first Saturday of the month. She also works with Prescott Valley Teen Librarian Carol Sibray, and Sibray has a box at the PV Library teen office for donations from the community.
"We have so little, anything would be welcome," said MMA Principal Ginger Flaumenhaft.
The school often has speakers that present talks in the on-site Chapel on the Hillside. The girls can choose to attend Sunday services at the Chapel or go into Prescott Valley to other church services, Reddick-Gibson said.
When a girl graduates, she receives her high school diploma from her home school district. Some work toward earning a General Equivalency Diploma, taking the GED test at Yavapai College. All teachers are certified, and the school is an accredited public school.
The girls who live in two of MMA's group homes in Prescott Valley continue to attend school onsite from 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. The school offers basketball, volleyball, track and softball. In fact, Reddick-Gibson said the track team made it to state finals this past year.
The cafeteria serves 130 people in three shifts at each meal. This will soon change to four shifts. Girls who want to work in the kitchen can earn $1 per hour. The school also has a 12-week culinary program in which students gain skills and receive minimum wage.
The group homes each serve nine girls and both are full. Generally, Reddick-Gibson said, girls stay at the Academy in dormitories, then move into the group home, then go home or somewhere else with a discharge plan.
Chrissy Shoemaker, transitional coordinator, makes sure services and support are in place before girls are released back to their home district. This includes therapy, psychological care, and family-based services.
"At the time of transition, we make sure they have everything they need. One of the issues with residential treatment is that they do well, go home and then fall apart, especially Native American girls. It is difficult to maintain in some home environments," Reddick-Gibson said.
The Lifetime Commitment program identifies girls who do not have a safe home awaiting them. The Academy makes a commitment to help them upon their release. Right now, MMA is providing a former student with a car and apartment while she attends DeVry University in Phoenix, and two more are in the application process.
"It's very successful. They need the support in their lives, and they have the personal connection with us already," Reddick-Gibson said.
The usual residency for students is 9-12 months, however, one girl remained in the program for four years, she said. The cost of residential treatment is picked up by mental health agencies, social services, educational organizations or private pay.
The girls work within a three-level behavioral system, and some have earned the title of Mountain Lion Executive with more privileges. Each of the dormitories has a common area where girls do homework or watch television. The girls do their own cleaning chores.
Editor's Note: The Tribune is using first names chosen by the girls because they spoke so openly of their lives.
"Jamie," 17, has been at MMA for one year and three months. She comes from California where she got in trouble with drugs, fighting, car theft and transporting drugs. She first got into trouble about age 12 for fighting. It was just something her family members did, she said.
Now she has learned how to cope with her feelings. She said drugs won't be a problem when she returns home. She plans to go into independent living, attend community college, then enroll in Brown University.
"Maria," 16, is from Michigan and has been at MMA for seven months. She said she has discovered in therapy why she used drugs. She is tackling other issues that led to truancy and domestic assault. She didn't go to school because "I had better things to do than school. I was rude."
She is studying for her GED and plans to live with her sister, attend community college and university and work toward a career in the medical field. Drugs are rampant in her environment, with most of her family members involved in illegal drug use.
She said the best thing about MMA is making positive relationships and learning how to communicate with people.
"Carmen" is 18 and will be discharged this month to Las Vegas. She's attended MMA for nine months, having previously been in trouble with drugs and facing charges of armed robbery. The criminal charges revolved around drugs and centered on a particular person. "I don't believe in innocent bystanders getting hurt," she said.
Carmen would like to return home to take care of her mother, as her father passed away four months ago. She intends to get a full-time job, and will request a judge to expunge her juvenile records when she turns 21. She said, to earn money for school, she'd like to be a blackjack dealer because they are well paid. She plans to study neo-natal nursing in college. "I'll get to hold babies and secretly give them kisses."
She doesn't intend to go back to drugs - marijuana - "but it's still a thought." She will move into a transitional home in Nevada after her discharge.
"I'm glad I went here instead of prison," she said. "The best thing about MMA is that they are teaching me how to deal with things, and how to respectfully give my opinions."
"Lauren," 19, is from Oakland, Calif. She has been at MMA for a year and will graduate high school before she leaves. She faced charges of prostitution, making terrorist threats and assault with a deadly weapon.
Previously involved in the Job Corps program, she ran away while on medical leave, and consequently was sent to Oakland to live with her mother.
"My story's embarrassing. I look back and think I was stupid," she said. When she ran away, she stayed in the Bay Area Rapid Transit train terminal for two days, and a pimp picked her up. Prior to that she had been in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend who broke her nose in three places. She stayed with her pimp for three and a half years.
"I'm pretty upfront about it. I got manipulated. But I like to please others and I liked the (praise) because I was bringing in a lot of money," she said.
When Lauren first arrived at MMA, she said she was faking it, she couldn't wait to go back out. She graduated on Feb. 10 and will live with her sister in Florida and apply to college with plans to join a sorority and attend culinary school. She loves reading and her English classes.
Her biggest issue, she said, is how easily manipulated she can be. When on a home pass, she tried to call her ex-boyfriend to let him know she was loyal to him. The assault was against a girl whom the boyfriend also was seeing.
For more information about Mingus Mountain Academy, call 772-6394, or visit www.mmaaz.com.
Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2012
Article comment by:
MMA is a great facility. they taught me everything i needed to kno
Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Article comment by:
I want to say thank you to everyone at Mingus. The staff and even the girls have helped me reach my goals, and where I want to be. I am very thankful for everything they have done. Mingus showed me there is more ti life then the way I was living, there is more to people then what they can give me. They opened their hearts and time to work with me and for that I will be forever grateful. So thank you to all who work at Mingus and provide to keep it standing,