Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools
The World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS or WWASP) is a Utah, United States based organization that runs programs that they claim can correct what is perceived as inappropriate behavior by children as young as 12. Parents can sign their children up for these programs at their own discretion. Juveniles can also be admitted to the facilities by court order instead of jail. Some of the WWASP schools are based in the United States, such as Spring Creek Lodge Academy, others are abroad. WWASP operates many different websites and is linked to various other organizations, so that an Internet search for "defiant teen" or a similar phrase will likely turn up a WWASP program, rather than the websites of critics or competitors (see external links).
No distinction is made within the programs among students admitted because of law violations and those signed up by their parents. WWASP programs have become notorious for allegations of child abuse against the school staff.
WWASP operates a facility on the island nation of Jamaica, called "Tranquility Bay". It was opened in 1997. The director is Jay Kay, son of WWASP president Ken Kay . The cost for one child ranges from $25,000 to $40,000 a year. Jay Kay stated that "if I have kids, and they start giving me a problem, well they are going straight in the programme. If I had to, I'd pull the trigger without hesitation." (Aitkenhead 2003)
On June 17, 2003, the New York Times reported about complaints against Tranquility Bay staff by former customers:
- Christine Smith, 42, of Flemington, N.J., said she sold her home to pay tuition for her son, Thomas Owens, 16. "I was doing research on the Internet, and World Wide popped up everywhere. It looked good, it really did." She said program officials led her to believe that her son would receive counseling and therapy, but instead, she said, he spent two-thirds of his time at Tranquility Bay in isolation. "They hurt my son," she said. "Dramatically."
- "You're paying Harvard prices, and that's O.K. if it helps the child," she said. "But to beat the child, just beat them into submission? If you did this to your child, you would be arrested for child abuse."
- Tranquility Bay is the oldest of WWASPS's surviving overseas operations. WWASPS affiliates in Mexico and the Czech Republic have shut down under government pressure; its Costa Rica program closed after a revolt by students last month. In the United States, the organization has affiliated programs, some of which are brand-new, in Utah, Montana, New York, California, Iowa and South Carolina, according to public records.
The organization emphasizes that it teaches "respect for authority" and that its programs are "tough". It has taken legal action or threatened to do so against some of its critics. Children as young as 12 have been admitted to Tranquility Bay, for reasons ranging from drug use to conflicts with a new stepmother.
Aaron Kravig, who was court-ordered to spend about a year in the facility, delivered the following sworn testimony about Tranquility Bay regarding the sanitary conditions:
- "Some of us had beds that folded down from the wall and others slept, just slept on mattresses on the floor."
- "The showers, they were always cold; they didn't have any heads on them, the water just kind of flowed out of them. The showers were very unsanitary. There was .. There was visibile layers of dirt, grime, filth, mildew on the sides of the shower stalls on the floor. There has been like various parasites, visible bugs, maggots; things like that. I believe I got scabies from the showers by showering in them and, yeah, they're unsanitary, they're filthy."
Teens had to shower twice per day. The witness said that although he asked for medical treatment, he could not get his scabies treated until he left the facility:
- "The nurse usually told me just to come back later; usually never helped me with anything, with any of my medical problems. They were pretty uncaring. (...) I would get the flu; it would get untreated. I've had fever hallucinations and the nurse did nothing about it (...). "
According to Kravig, the facility used a "level system" based on score points, where students on the lower levels "have no privileges whatsoever" and cannot talk to anyone but students on the higher levels, nor contact their parents, until they have reached "level III". It took Kravig 6 or 7 months to reach that level. Letters to parents were screened by the staff, with sections deemed problematic marked out.
Students were not allowed to talk during meals; instead they were forced to listen to "motivational tapes" and take notes. Kravigs described meals as "not very nutritional" - a sandwich for lunch, sometimes without any meat, and "a plate of rice with a little bit of meat" for dinner.
There were 5 different categories of "consequences" (punishments) for every different rule violation. Category II punishments (given for violations like talking to other students) required students to write a 5,000 word essay. Kravig received 74 such punishments. "By the end you will have bruises on your fingers from pressing the pen; your whole arm will hurt; you will pretty much be numb (...)." Category III punishments are given for refusing orders or fighting among students:
- "You go into a room, into one of the dorm rooms and you have to lay down flat on your face with your head to the side all day; you can't sleep; you're in there for an undetermined amount of time depending upon your behavior and how you act in there. You can't get up during the day except for to go to the bathroom and you (...) get to sit up for about five minutes, probably about every three hours or so. Your food is brought to you and you can sit up to eat it; then you have to lay back right down. The room is unsanitary. There is pretty much what can only be described as pubic hairs floating all around the floor in there. There was one guy (...) who was urinating in the mop bucket all day and later that night after fitness time he mopped the floor with it and the next day we went in there and had to lay down on the floor again; they didn't really care."
According to his testimony, Kravig was in "observation placement" described above once for four and once for twenty-one days. At night, students were required to do fitness time, which Kravig described as severe. Students who did not complete their punishment were restrained. Two or three and up to nine or ten staff members would
- "lay you flat on the floor, one.. One of the staff will get on .. will like kneel down on your ankles, pressing your ankles into the tile floor. One will probably sit on your back and help another one pull your arms up over your back, so they will like hyperextend your arms, sometimes they do it to your legs. Sometimes they will like, they will set it on pressure points on your body pretty much just to hurt you into subservience, so you won't.. so you will do what they tell you."
- "I've seen the director of the facility doing it himself, restraining a kid. We were walking up from night head count and you could hear screaming; you always heard screaming (...)."
Category IV and V entailed longer observation placements for more "severe acts" like obtaining tobacco or alcohol, or making "run plans", which, according to Kravig, was already the case when students looked out the window or one student picked up another's writings. Self-injury also entailed a category V punishment.
Kravig describes a suicide in the girl's facility, and claims that his towel was used to pick up the girl, returned to him with a large blood spot, and that he was not given a fresh towel.
The facility was cleaned when parents would come to visit (which was only allowed for higher level students). Parents who would come uninvited, according to Kravig, were not allowed to see their children. Although the facility is on Jamaica, popular among tourists, there was no fishing, swimming, or snorkling. Kravig also describes what could be interpreted as false advertising:
- "The things depicted in the video about Tranquility Bay are completely..Yeah. None of that stuff is there, the horseback riding or the jet skiing; the things that they.. the buildings that they showed in the video, I've never seen any of those."
In the same case, Lindsey Wise delivered testimony about her stay at Tranquility Bay. She was signed up for the program by her parents at age 16, after having unsuccessfully participated in a different WWASPS program. She was escorted to the airport alone by program staff, and her testimony about the level system etc. corresponds with the one by Kravig. According to her testimony, she spent two months in staff watch (because she cracked her knuckles, deemed "self-injury"), which she described as follows:
- "Staff watch, we were instructed to lie.. I was instructed to lie on my stomach with my face flat on the floor and if I moved or spoke without permission, I was restrained. Restraint usually was where they took your arms and they bent them back behind your back like extremely far to the point where it caused like excruciating pain and they dug their knees into your back and that was what they called restraint."
During her two months of staff watch, she "wasn't allowed to touch or read books" and did not attend school. While Kravig was restrained only once, Wise, who was at the girls' facility, claimed that she was restrained "too many times to remember". About the sanitary conditions, she said:
- "I mean the conditions of the facility was [sic] disgusting; there was sewage on the floors and there were just bugs crawling all over and the windows would be left wide open and the doors and the bugs and sometimes animals would come in."
Negative letters to her parents were considered "manipulation", which reduced her score within the system and sometimes entailed "consequences". Wise confirmed Kravig's testimony regarding medical treatment; like Kravig, she was told to stop complaining and denied medical treatment, in her case for severe acne and a yeast infection.
In the first month, during staff watch, students were not allowed to do any fitness activities, and after the students complained, they were assigned, according to Wise's testimony, "5000 jumping jacks and 3000 crunches and 200 push-ups three times per day". If students failed to complete the exercises, they were restrained, which may explain the high number of restraints reported by Lindsey. She also confirmed the suicide reported by Kravig, by Valerie Herron on August 10, 2001. According to Wise, Herron's clothes, notebook, pens and other personal belongings were given to other students for re-use; no discussions about the incident took place, and "the staff just acted like it was something that was normal."
Wise also reported that she "would go to sleep every night hearing people scream."
In early 2003, journalist Decca Aitkenhead gained access to Tranquility Bay. According to her article for the British Observer Magazine, "parents sign a legal contract with Tranquility Bay granting 49 per cent custody rights." This allows the facility staff to use the physical force they deem necessary to control "their" child and waives the facility's liability for harm. This also explains why students are assigned to "families". According to the article, they have to address their family representative as "Mom" or "Dad".
The article discusses the seminars in which students have to share details of their life. Aitkenhead cites one former student, Scott Burkett: "You can only move forward in the programme if you share intimate details of your life. If you don't share, you're not 'working the programme', and they'll take away your points. In a meeting, your rep will suddenly pick on you and say, 'Right, I want to hear something private, right now. Come on. Or do you want to go to OP?'"
Burkett explains that such private information frequently involves past relationships, which the "family" representative will often use later to degrade and humiliate the student using questions like "How many of your friends do you think [your girlfriend is] sleeping with right now?"
Burkett also cites the case of a boy being caught with used tissues which were suspected to be leftovers of masturbation: "And they got him up in front of everyone right after dinner, and the upper-level kids just ripped into him, this little 13-year-old kid. It was kind of the entertainment for the night."
Regarding "observational placement", the article quotes Jay Kay that "the record is actually held by a female", who, on and off, spent 18 months lying on her face. Other humiliation methods are apparently used. At the time of Aitkenhead's visit, one girl had to wear a sign around her neck with the text "I've been in this programme for three years, and I am still pulling crap."
As for "restraint", the article cites an unnamed student: "You could get it for raising your voice or pointing your finger. You know you're going to get it when three Jamaicans walk in and say, 'Take off your watch.' They pin you down in a five-point formation and that's when they start twisting and pulling your limbs, grinding your ankles." This description, with the student calmly removing their own watch, clearly rules out that restraint is used in the way the word suggests -- to restrain a student who is out of control -- and shows that it is instead practiced as a method of corporal punishment.
If the testimony cited above is accurate, the physical and psychological abuse described would result in severe trauma in many cases (leading in turn to symptoms like depression, nightmares, stress, and self-injury). It depends on the degree of prior bonding with the parents whether such trauma is projected onto WWASP, onto the parents, or self-projected. In any case, these traumatic effects will likely not surface immediately.
Modern psychology increasingly views bonding as essential for the development of positive relationships; bonding, of course, is a two-way-process. Many children admitted to WWASP come from divorced families where the bonding process has been disrupted. Child neglect and lack of physical affection are both known risk factors for problematic behavior such as drug use.
Many of the same arguments that are used in the debate about spanking can be applied here: Even many of the most fierce opponents of the practice acknowledge that it may often accomplish the desired result of obedience, but claim that the immediate physical harm and the long-term psychological harm far outweigh this perceived benefit.
Articles about WWASP often quote parents who are very satisfied customers. Critics explain this effect with the widely accepted theory of cognitive dissonance: the programs are very expensive, and if they are viewed as a failure later, the parents would have to acknowledge their own mistake, and worse, that they spent thousands of dollars to fund a program that ultimately harmed their children. Such acknowledgment will be viewed as emotionally unappealing, so reasons will be sought for upholding the belief that the program was indeed useful.
If the allegations in the various testimonies cited are true, the techniques used in WWASP programs are a mixture of methods used by military schools, churches, prisons, and religious cults (see the linked articles for more information):
- Magdalen Asylums: rule of silence, even adult women had to address the nuns as "mother" (similar to WWASP's rule of addressing the staff representative as "Mum" or "Dad"), sexuality was strictly controlled, corporal punishment was used, and occupants were kept busy with manual labor.
- Military academies: degradation and humiliation, power structures are of utmost importance, corporal punishment replaced with making the group pay for a single individual's behavior.
- Prisons: control of sexuality (many United States prisons prohibit masturbation), various disciplinary techniques.
- Religious cults: intensive use of videos and "reflections" to dominate the minds of members/inmates, reference to the group as a family (e.g. Children of God), systems of levels within which the members can advance (e.g. Scientology), litigation against critics.
According to critics of recovered memory therapy , patients in such therapy sessions are told that they are in "denial" until they acknowledge that sexual or ritual abuse has happened; similarly, relatives who are charged with the abuse are also in "denial" until they acknowledge its reality. This is comparable to the alleged use of the word "manipulative" in WWASP programs -- students are "manipulative" whenever they say or write something which the staff disagrees with.
- Parents Divided Over Jamaica Disciplinary Academy by Tim Weiner , The New York Times, June 17, 2003
- WWASP - Tranquility Bay. Testimony of Aaron Kravig, Lindsey Wise & Nick Violante
- Decca Aitkenhead, The Last Resort, Observer Magazine, June 29, 2003.
- Safe Choices for Troubled Teens. By Anthony Meza-Wilson and Christy Harrison, August 12, 2004.
- Wayward Web Fora - popular discussion forum for teens who went through programs like WWASP and regard them as abusive.
- International Survivors Action Committee section about Tranquility Bay. ISAC's stated mission is to "expose abuse, civil rights violations, and fraud perpetuated through privately-owned facilities for juveniles."
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