What happens when your child is getting D’s and F’s in school, using drugs, and in trouble with the law? And what if you are a teacher and school leader, and everyone thinks you’ve got the secret recipe to raising and disciplining children, and the child struggling is yours?
Gregg R. Johnson (MEd ’74, EdD ’90) was in that position when his son started attending West Ridge Academy (formerly the Utah Boys Ranch) in 1993. The Academy helps troubled boys and girls emotionally, socially, and academically as they attempt to overcome addictions and personal challenges. Johnson saw a way to make a difference, and stayed after his son left to become Director of Education and part of the team that has helped over 25,000 youth. He’s the reason why many students stayed in school in the midst of personal crises.
“[The boys] were mostly failing in school, failing at home, and were usually in trouble with the law. To be on track, they had to be responsible for their own lives and understand how to live right,” said Johnson. “Most of them would come in behind in school and they weren’t on track to graduate. Our goal in the school system was to get them on track to graduate and teach them guiding principles.”
While he was impressed with the impact the Boys Ranch was having on his son, Johnson saw a need within the academic program. “I got involved with their education program because they really didn’t have anybody to oversee it and they weren’t accredited,” Johnson said. “If students graduated [from the Boys Ranch], they had to do special testing to get credit for high school.”
To get the Boys Ranch officially accredited, Johnson worked with the Utah State Board of Education and Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. The Boys Ranch made changes and received official accreditation from both organizations. However, Johnson knew that the school accreditation was only the foundation of an improved education system. He spent a majority of his time voluntarily training the teachers to be better prepared to help the boys succeed and stayed with the ranch during the building of an official school building and gymnasium.
With the help of teachers and the Boys Ranch staff, students with D’s and F’s would end up graduating from the Boys Ranch School, or their regular high school, as consistent B and A students. Johnson saw these improvements as a hope for true change within the boys. “If you want to bring people out of problems with their lives, education is key.” Johnson volunteered until 1999, but having seen the transformation of many lives in the programs, he’s not stopped believing in the value of an education.