Wellspring Academies

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Wellspring Academies (formerly Academy of the Sierras) 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.[1][2]

As of September 2009 Wellspring Academies had two campuses.

  • The California campus is in Reedley, California, about 30 minutes southeast of Fresno, and has 90 students ages 13–24 (grades 8-12, as well as a college-age program run in conjunction with Reedley College).[3]
  • A second campus, located in Brevard, North Carolina and known as Wellspring Academy of the Carolinas (or WSCL), has roughly 30 students ages 11–18 (grades 6-11).[4]


The Academy of the Sierras was founded in California 2004 by Ryan D. Craig, who also served as the school's first Executive Director.[5] Aspen invested $6.5 million in the start-up.[6] The school's second location in North Carolina was established in 2007.[5] Wellspring Academies closed in January 2014 due 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.".[7]

Admissions are ongoing throughout the year, with a minimum 4-month stay. Incoming students for the fall semester have the option to participate in a multi-week wilderness program conducted in a location near the campus.[1]

Wellspring Academies utilizes an integrated approach to fitness and weight loss. Once in the regular program, participants learn diet and activity management, with culinary, nutrition, fitness and aerobic training to enable participants to learn lifelong skills. Students eat three low-fat meals and two snacks daily, 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.[2] Behavioral changes are reinforced with cognitive behavioral therapy, training students on the self-regulatory behaviors required for long-term weight control. This includes use of a Self-Monitoring Journal to record everything 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.[8][9] 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 emotional eating or resorting to food as an unhealthy coping mechanism. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is central to the Wellspring program as it has been shown in numerous studies to reinforce key self-regulatory skills (such as self-monitoring) and has favorable short and long-term effects on weight loss [10]


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,[11] 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 Southern Association of Colleges and Schools [12] 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 courses that reinforce skills for weight loss. Electives such as foreign languages, theater, and horticulture are also available and vary by Academy and semester.


Wellspring Academies claims that students lose more than 3 pounds (1.4 kg) per week and maintain this weight loss, on average.[7]

Some experts, such as Anjali Jain, a pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center, question the expense and necessity of boarding school, pointing out that participants have not been followed long enough after leaving the program to evaluate the long-term results.[6]

Recent long-term results were presented at The Obesity Society 2008 Annual Meeting.[13]

Related programs[edit]

Wellspring also offers Wellspring camps for summer weight loss in locations including New York, North Carolina, Florida, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Vancouver, Canada, and England.[14] and after-school programs for fitness and weight loss[15]


  1. ^ a b Manny Crisostomo, The Weight, Sacramento Bee, Special Report, October 2006
  2. ^ a b Mcclatchy and Blythe Bernhard, Losing weight in a boarding-school setting; But some question academy’s methods, The Chicago Tribune, December 3, 2006
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ [2][dead link]
  5. ^ a b Nanci Bompey and Ashley Wilson, Wellspring: School helps kids slim down, The Asheville Citizen, April 2008
  6. ^ a b Sandra G. Boodman (May 20, 2008). "'Fat School' - In the Hills of North Carolina, a Controversial Experiment in Weight Loss". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 2008. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  7. ^ a b "Wellspring Academy". Unprecedented Weight Loss Outcomes for Overweight Teens. Retrieved September 2009. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  8. ^ Phelan, Suzanne, Rena R. Wing, et al, “Holiday Weight Management by Successful Weight Losers and Normal Weight Individuals", Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2008, Vol. 76, No. 3, 442–448
  9. ^ Baker, Raymond & Daniel Kirschenbaum, “Self-Monitoring May be Necessary For Successful Weight Control," Behavior Therapy, 1993, Vol. 24, 377-394
  10. ^ Kelly, Kristina Pecora & Daniel Kirschenbaum,“Immersion Treatment of Childhood and Adolescent Obesity: The First Review of a Promising 40 Year Old Intervention", 4/23/09
  11. ^ [3][dead link]
  12. ^ [4][dead link]
  13. ^ "Published Events - CON - Desire2Learn Capture Portal". hosting2.epresence.tv.
  14. ^ "LIFE CHANGING experiences". Wellspringcamps.com. Retrieved 2019-06-23.
  15. ^ [5][dead link]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 36°34′10″N 119°28′35″W / 36.56944°N 119.47639°W / 36.56944; -119.47639