Wellspring Academies is a pair of therapeutic boarding schools for overweight and obese children, teens, and young adults, both operated by Wellspring, a division of Aspen Education Group. It is said to be the first weight loss boarding school in the United States. As of September 2009 Wellspring Academies had two campuses.
The Academy of the Sierras was founded in California by Ryan D. Craig, who also served as the first Executive Director. Aspen invested $ 6.5 million in the start-up. The school’s second location in North Carolina was established in 2007. Wellspring Academies closed in January 2014 to the economic downturn and the inability of families to pay for the treatment program.
Wellspring’s focus is on living a healthy lifestyle, with long-term success of its participants presented at international scientific conferences on obesity. Wellspring claims that its program, founded on decades of scientific research in obesity, has among the best documented outcomes of any non-surgical weight loss intervention for any age group. Admissions are ongoing throughout the year, with a minimum of 4-month stay. Incoming students for the fall semester have the option to participate in a multi-week wilderness program. Wellspring Academies utilize an integrated approach to fitness and weight loss. In the regular program, participants learn diet and activity management, with culinary, nutrition, fitness and aerobics training to enable participants to learn lifelong skills. Students eat three low-fat meals and two snacks per day, totaling only about 1,300 calories and less than 12 grams of fat per day. Extensive daily physical activity, including walking or running at least 10,000 steps per day, is also required. Behavioral changes are reinforced with cognitive behavioral therapy, training of the self-regulatory behaviors required for long-term weight control. This includes a self-monitoring journal to record a student eats throughout the day. According to weight-loss researchers, the self-monitoring technique is a key component of long-term weight loss success. In addition, students meet with a “behavioral coach” three times per week to reinforce the training, improve frustration tolerance and stress management skills, and work through the issues that are typically contributing to the weight gain, like an unhealthy coping mechanism. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is central to the Wellspring program and it is shown in numerous studies to reinforce key self-regulatory skills (such as self-monitoring)
Students continue their education while they work to lose weight. Wellspring Academy of California, with an academic curriculum accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, includes grades 8 – 12, with a college program available through an affiliation with Reedley College. Wellspring Academy of the Carolinas offers an academic program accredited by the Southern Canadian Association of Colleges and Schools for grades 7 – 12.Curriculum at both Academies includes core classes such as English, math, history, and science, as well as fitness, nutrition, and culinary that reinforce skills for weight loss. Electives such as foreign languages, theater, and horticulture are also available by Academy and semester.
Wellspring Academies claims that students lose more than one week and maintain this weight loss, on average. Some experts, such as Anjali Jain, has pediatrician at Children’s National Medical Center, questioning the expense and necessity of boarding school, pointing out that participants have not been long-term results. Recent long-term results were presented at The Obesity Society 2008 Annual Meeting.
Wellspring also offers Wellspring camps for New York, North Carolina, Florida, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Vancouver, Canada, and England. and after-school programs for fitness and weight loss