The instant you step foot on the former hunting grounds that was the Élan School, their rules and regulations come bearing down on you swiftly and mercilessly. Effective immediately, are rules like no speaking without permission, no entering rooms alone, no eye contact with the opposite sex, and mandated screaming at other residents on command. It was very “Lord of the Flies” – everything was run by the kids. Élan specialized in treating troubled youths with severe emotional and behavioral problems through an extreme mix of military, public humiliation, heavy surveillance, thought reform, group psychotherapy and milieu therapy tactics. The concept was, “That which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” A philosophically sound concept, that went dangerously awry.

This is the last stop on the bus. Without Élan it’s either jail, an institution or death.

Élan was hailed by many to have been a last resort saving grace for incorrigible delinquent teens in crisis. Supporters of the program ranged from thousands of former students and parents to hundreds of psychologists, social workers, educational officials and national associations, many of whom have praised its tough love tactics. However, for every riveting success story that credits Élan with saving their life, there is a broken adult unable to recover from the harrowing trauma they faced there as a youth. Today, thousands of programs like Élan still exist throughout the United States and around the world with no government oversight, no regulation, and little to no advocacy. By sharing our story we hope to bring awareness of this industry to the public and bring closure to past victimized residents, survivors of trauma and to honor and remember the lives lost along the way.