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916's newest program offers students compassion, rigor

When the Emily Program began admitting more adolescents to its Woodbury location, they knew they had to add in an academic component. That’s where Northeast Metro 916 comes in.

The Emily Program is an organization that specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, and like many care and treatment programs, the structure of an academic environment is essential to recovery. “In the absence of structure, students can sometimes revert to habits that are not healthy,” said Ann Peterson, the principal who oversees the school program. “When parents bring their students to the Emily Program, Karuna is an additional benefit to their treatment.”

Karuna is the name of the school that operates within the Emily Program, so that future employers and colleges won’t be able to identify the student as having an eating disorder by looking at their transcript. Karuna is a Sanskrit word that is usually translated as "compassion," which in Buddhism is understood to mean active sympathy or a willingness to bear the pain of others.

The school has one part-time teacher, Jennifer St. Germaine, who taught full-time at nearby Pankalo until Karuna officially opened. There are nine students enrolled so far, and the school program can accommodate up to 12.

Like an Area Learning Center (ALC), Karuna offers students multiple ways to keep up with their schoolwork. Students can continue to pursue rigorous studies like AP History or International Baccalaureate work from their home high schools under Jennifer’s guidance, or they can use 916’s curriculum, which is aligned with Minnesota state standards.

Still, the program is distinct from an ALC, because the students typically are not missing credits and are generally on-track to graduate, many of whom with impressive academic portfolios. “Once students in treatment become physically and mentally healthier, their academic performance improves even more,” Ann said.

In that sense, Karuna is more like Aris, another care and treatment program in Woodbury that treats students with depression and anxiety. The teachers from both programs will soon collaborate in a professional learning community (PLC) and in other collaborative efforts.

They are still ironing out some details -- the classroom has changed locations three times in as many weeks -- but the staff at the Emily Program have been accommodating and welcoming, and they approach any challenge with an eye toward creative problem solving. Ann is confident that by the end of this school year, Karuna will run smoothly and students will be able to keep up with their academic work while they pursue treatment for eating disorders. “We have made great strides in just a few weeks,” she said. “I am super happy that we have this program at 916, and that I can be a part of it.”