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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Hitting close to home: ‘The Program’ explores the troubled teen industry

Tripp Menhall

When the trailer for “The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping” was released, my relatives, hometown friends and strangers flooded Facebook to share it. The three-episode limited series on Netflix may be another true crime docuseries for others to binge, but for me, it was personal.

“The program” the film refers to is a so-called “school” for troubled teenagers that were abused and mistreated in the name of behavior modification. I’m from Malone, New York, in Franklin County, but that’s only about an hour and a half away from the school’s location in Ogdensburg, New York.

I didn’t realize how much this program affected my community until I talked about the docuseries with my dad.

“We were told that all the bad kids got sent to Ogdensburg,” he told me. “I guess now we know why.”

Academy at Ivy Ridge was a behavior modification facility advertised as a boarding school. Parents from around the country sent their “troubled” teens to the “school” to better them. Instead of getting a quality education, the students were subjected to verbal, physical and mental abuse.

The program ran from 2001 to 2009. It had 460 students enrolled at its peak.

Parents often paid strangers to kidnap their children in the middle of the night and take them to the program.

Though Ivy Ridge was ultimately shut down, WWASP, or World Wide Association Of Specialty Programs and Schools, still has toxic and abusive programs around the world today — programs just like Academy at Ivy Ridge.

The docuseries follows a group of survivors as they work to piece together documents from their time at Ivy Ridge and hold those in charge accountable, while also raising awareness about other programs.

Not only the children, but also the parents, were manipulated to believe they were doing the best thing for their troubled children.

In the first two episodes, survivor Alexa Brand explains that when she arrived at Ivy Ridge and took her preliminary drug test, she was told it came back positive. This didn’t make sense to her because she had never done drugs. The Ivy Ridge staff wouldn’t let her move up in the program until she “took accountability” for her “drug use,” so she was coerced into lying to her peers, instructors, parents and even to herself that she was an addict.

Later, she found documents that proved that her test was negative all along. Her parents still didn’t believe her as a result of the manipulation and lies they heard and saw, showing the long-lasting impact of the program.

Survivor Katherine Hubler’s father’s reaction was more kind and apologetic. He wrote to her, “Dear Katherine, I hope you hear my apologies for failing you and can find forgiveness in your heart.”

However, some of those responsible for the abuse are still standing by their actions. Others are dismissive. The series shows perpetrators — knowing or unknowing — reacting to news about the docuseries and the program itself.

In the second episode, Brand speaks to an unnamed caller in a bowling alley. The caller, whose voice was edited for anonymity, accuses Brand of only targeting them, which Brand denies and says, “You are one of many that contributed to a lifetime of trauma.” The person on the phones pauses before offering “And?” as the only response.

The feedback to “The Program” has been mostly supportive, yet many viewers still question why the students didn’t run away. Many towns in the North Country area of upstate New York are secluded, with more acres of woods and farmland than people. There’s also minimal cell service in most spots. This means that even if the victims attempted to escape, they would’ve easily been caught or lost, especially when most weren’t from the area.

The docuseries was necessary. There are still many WWASP programs around the world today. This docuseries aimed to spread awareness, and the creators succeeded when the series came out on Netflix.

Almost everyone in the surrounding area was shocked, which serves as evidence of how these abusive programs can fly under the radar.

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About the Contributors
Lillian Curtin
Lillian Curtin, Opinion Editor
Tripp Menhall
Tripp Menhall, Creative Director

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    Darling LeeApr 10, 2024 at 9:15 pm

    What happens in the dark will always come to light.