A Host of Holiday Happenings

The last few weeks of 2013 were a flurry in both weather and activity. Here’s how we spent our holiday break at the residence.

Friday, December 20th

Most of the students were still at LEA, and we took a trip to Salt Lake to visit the Leonardo museum of science, technology, art, and creativity. There, in partnership with the Israeli Antiquities Authority, the museum was displaying the world-famous Dead Sea Scrolls. Our students were able to experience a live actor give a multi-media introduction to the discovery of the scrolls, view many ancient artifacts on display with a personal audio tour, and get a close view of many of the scroll fragments on display.

That evening, the students who would be on campus for Christmas decorated stockings and enhanced some of the house’s decorations with their own flair.


Monday, December 23rd

We started the morning by jumping, flipping, and flopping at thewAIRhouse trampoline park. It was fun to see some of the tricks and abilities the kids demonstrated! There were also dodge ball and basketball trampoline courts for some extra excitement.

That afternoon, the kids viewed a message from “the chief” the week’s “secret service mission”. They learned that each day, they would receive a dossier detailing a different task to complete. At each service location, they would find an informant with a piece of cipher for them to decode. At the end of the week, after they decoded the entire message, they would be led to the location of a trunk containing something of interest to them.


The first two missions that day involved making cupcakes and holiday cards. Everyone participated in one way or another in the preparation and delivery of the day’s work. The first destination we visited was our local firehouse, where the firemen on duty gave us a tour and showed us the engines. Afterwards, we visited a local care center and gave the remaining cupcakes and cards to the residents there.

That evening, everyone piled into the vans to see the holiday lights at Thanksgiving Point and returned for some hot cocoa and sleep.

Tuesday, December 24th

The morning started out with a relaxed brunch of crepes, scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit, and juice. It only got better when we went to the University of Utah and saw the Pioneer Theater Company‘s outstanding production of the movie-turned-stage musical, Elf. The talent was remarkable, the scenery was larger-than-life, the costumes were fanciful, and the book and music were a knock-out.

After returning to the house, the kids volunteered to be in one of two groups. The first went to an outdoor ice skating rink in Salt Lake, and the others completed the next secret service task. Those in the second group went to Target and picked out presents for kids who would be in Primary Children’s Hospital over the holidays. After picking out a wide assortment of little things, they wrapped and delivered them.

That evening, they unwrapped an early Christmas present – the animated Tom Hanks movie, The Polar Express. We set up the projector and they watched the film and relaxed.

Wednesday, December 25th

Christmas morning dawned with discovering what Santa had brought, opening presents, and calling family. Many of the students had asked to see the second Hunger Games movie, and were surprised by a trip to the theaters that afternoon to do so. That evening, their secret service task was to take the random acts of kindness cards provided and choose little projects of their own invention around the house for peers, teachers, etc.

Thursday, December 26th

On Thursday morning, we pulled out the karaoke machine and the wii to play some games at the house. We worked together to make several batches of chocolate chip cookies and put them in gift boxes. After group therapy, the kids delivered the boxes to the different House of Hope locations around Salt Lake, which provides substance abuse treatment for women, pregnant women, and mothers with children.

Friday, December 27th

The final task for the week of secret service missions took the kids to the Humane Society of Utah to socialize with the animals. They played with cats, dogs, rodents, and bunnies and we loved watching how much love was exchanged. When they got the final piece of cipher and decoded it, they learned the location and password for the trunk. It contained popcorn, soft drinks, and the Mission Impossible movie, which we watched together after groups.

That evening, everyone went to the Rose Wagner theater to watch the Intermountain Therapy Animals (that come to La Europa on Sundays) perform in a production called Pupcracker: A Canine Nutcracker. It was really enjoyable, and proceeds went to support their worthy cause. (Some footage from a past year’s production can be seen here.)


Monday, December 30th

As students started returning to the house, we had a few more activities together. On Monday, we split into communities and participated in Walmart bingo. Each team got a bingo board and explored Walmart together, looking for the things listed. As they found them, they were able to cross them off and attempt to beat the other team in speed and number of spotted items. The winning team won a prize. The therapists conducted groups and the kids also had some time for study hall this day. The students were able to participate in PE that evening.


Tuesday, December 31st

Tuesday was a big day at La Europa, as the kids participated in Iron Chef: Battle Citrus. Each community would cook an appetizer, main course, and dessert that incorporated some form of citrus. They had the day to plan menus, shop for ingredients (and stay within a predetermined budget), and finally showcase their culinary panache as they prepared the dishes and wowed the judges. In addition to working together, they had opportunities to practice conflict resolution skills and time management as the clock ticked down toward dinner. Everyone enjoyed the variety of food and delicious efforts of the participants that evening before watching the ball drop in New York and celebrating the new year.


Wednesday, January 1st

On our final day of break, we started with one final competition. In two randomly selected groups, the kids received tracking sheets for a photo scavenger hunt, with each item’s point value weighted according to difficulty. Each team then drove off to locate as many items as they could within the specified time limit, taking a picture to document what they found. They demonstrated creativity in capturing some of the listed items, and the winning team enjoyed a prize for their efforts.

After study hall, the kids gathered for a final culminating activity. Each person received an invitation to dinner that evening. Enclosed in the invitation was a character description and some costume suggestions. The kids then had time to gather and dress up in costumes, decorating different areas in the house and school for their subsequent dinner parties. Valery, our cook, prepared a special roast dinner and the staff served it and the sparkling cider to each “guest” as they chatted to each other in character. After dinner, they learned that there was a detective in their midst and that they were all suspects in a murder investigation. Each “guest” received a booklet, detailing things they must disclose about others and conceal about themselves. Play proceeded in rounds, with more pieces of the puzzle being revealed with every round. At the end, guests were given a chance to make accusations before the solution was revealed, character by character.


We had a lot of fun together over the break! We look forward to seeing many of our families in the fast-approaching parent days ahead.


The advent of the Utah Education Association conference always means a few days off of school for students in the state. We made good use of the time at La Europa. Here are some highlights:

  • Heather Anderson came to share her powerful story of drug resistance with everyone. After her brother died of a drug overdose, Heather became an outspoken advocate for prevention of drug and underage alcohol use. She told our students that after her brother’s death, she wanted to go after all of the drug suppliers and put them in jail. She realized, however, that more people would rise up to fulfill the demand for drugs. In order to make a difference, she would need to address the rising generation on the prevention side. After winning the Miss Utah crown, she went on to place as a finalist in the Miss USA pageant, with the goal of using her title to get into schools to share her message. With the use of fatal vision goggles, statistics, a lot of student participation, and a passionate voice, she taught some powerful lessons. Several students remarked afterwards that her story really impacted them and that they had an increased commitment to staying sober.


  • To take advantage of this fun time of year, we visited Cornbelly’s Corn Maze. The students bounced on a giant jumping pillow, visited a haunted house, and explored several of the other themed attractions available. We also enjoyed a reserved pavilion and firepit for lunch, where we made s’mores and relaxed.


  • With Halloween right around the corner, we visited some local thrift shops and harnessed our creativity to pull together some fun costumes for the celebration. We also had the chance to dip caramel apples and enjoy a movie together.

We are looking forward to more adventures with our ropes course experience this Friday. Stay tuned!

Summer School Sizzles at La Europa

Summer school will be “hot” at La Europa Academy as the students study a number of infectious diseases in Biology after reading “The Hot Zone,” by Richard Preston. The summer school course offerings range from credit recovery classes, SAT or PSAT prep classes, artistic pursuits and the usual fare of history, English, science and math. Students will also be taking educational field trips every Friday!

Some of our exciting courses this summer are:

War! This class will study reasons countries choose to go to war and how various societies mobilize their populations.

Ceramics where students will practice all forms of hand-building—slab, coil and pinch construction. In addition, all will have time on the pottery wheels,

Art Studio where students will use writing and visual art to create artistic journals.

Writing Workshop which will include improving essay writing, creative writing, and research writing skills. Students will be taken through the pre-writing, outlining, and drafting processes and will be instructed in MLA (Modern Language Association) formatting and citation guidelines.

Shakespeare: In this course, students will work collaboratively in studying one of Shakespeare’s plays. Students should come away with increased appreciation for the richness of Shakespeare’s language. Students will carefully read, study, and analyze the text and will prepare for a short scene performance by script editing, costume planning, and scene directing.

La Europa Academic Team Receives Top Marks

The academic team at La Europa completed a recent accreditation by the Northwest Accreditation Committee, who came to conduct their external site visit on February 19, 2013.  The accreditation visit occurs every five years and results in continuing accreditation of La Europa’s academic program which means that credits earned through La Europa Academy can transfer to any secondary and post-secondary institution.  The academic team had to engage in a rigorous self-study process and provide extensive documentation of the school’s structure and teaching practices as well as be observed by the accreditation team.

La Europa Academy’s academic program was given exemplary marks for the mission, the leadership and the ability to create a safe climate that fosters learning.  The accreditation team remarked on how individualized the education is and how thoroughly each student’s educational needs were understood by the academic team.  

The school experience at La Europa Academy is part of what makes La Europa a comprehensive treatment option for girls 14 – 18.  With four full-time, licensed teachers (one for each core subject area) and a host of supplemental teachers for elective classes, students at La Europa experience their academic day much as they would in their regular school with direct teacher-to-student instruction, hands-on learning experiences and plenty of support for homework assignments.

“Many of our students have struggled in school either academically or socially,” said Wendy St. James, PhD, Education Director.  “We see very clearly the impact our school experience has on students’ self-esteem and their ability to meet their therapeutic goals.”

New Faces of Expressive Therapy at La Europa Academy

La Europa Academy would like to welcome some new faces to our Expressive Arts team.  We welcome Jaimie Cogswell, MTRS/CTRS who will be facilitating Recreation Therapy for our students.  Jaimie comes to La Europa with extensive experience in recreation therapy in a number of settings such as residential and psychiatric and currently works at the University of Utah in addition to her position on the La Europa Academy Expressive Arts team.

Paula Naatz has joined our team as our Dance Therapist.  Paula is a master’ level practitioner who has more than 20 years experience as a dance therapist in a variety of settings.  She works at Primary Children’s Residential Treatment Center full time and joins our team to use her dance/movement therapy skills with our students who have body image issues or have experienced trauma.

Jaycie Voorhees, M.M., M.T.-B.C. and Neurologic Music Therapist, continues her work at La Europa bringing her expertise in music therapy to help girls with social challenges and mood challenges.

Students at La Europa are involved in two group therapy sessions daily – one is a processing group tailored to each student’s issues and the other is an expressive therapy group (art, music or dance) also tailored to the students’ issues.

La Europa also welcomes our two new dance teachers, Ali Monsen and Haley Anderson.  Both of these young women have more than 10 years experience in dance competition and have taught a wide variety of dance classes.  They will be helping the La Europa students brush up on and expand their dance techniques as well as working on choreography.  Students at La Europa Academy can choose dance classes or yoga as an option to Physical Education class and have the opportunity to display their talents during our quarterly Fine Arts Festival.