ADHD Medication and Behavioral Therapy

by Jacob Hafkin, CCBS Full-Time Therapist

ADHD Medication and Behavioral Therapy - Jacob Hafkin - Cherokee Creek Boys School TherapistRecently, I was asked to review an article that dealt with the subject of ADHD medication and Behavioral Therapy. It was published in Psychiatry Advisor and references the Center for Disease Control’s memo regarding the efficacy of Behavioral Therapy in the treatment of ADHD. OK…I agree with the premises made… but, more importantly, why do I agree? Because learning how to deal with ADHD is about managing symptomatology, rather than curing it.

These days we hear so much about medication and our society’s tendency to over-medicate children, especially young men. I have mixed feelings on the issue, as I have seen for numerous students the positive benefits of medication therapy.

ADHD medication and behavioral therapyThat said, I think too often we expect medications to fix everything. Studies have shown the most effective way to make and sustain change in the mental health field is through a combination of medication and talk therapies.

Medication can aid our students by allowing them a chance to control their behaviors. However, as a part of this regimen, the students also have to choose to control their behaviors.

That’s where the behavior therapy comes in. Our students must still learn strategies for success.

The fact that our boys can now pay attention in class gives us an open door to teach and coach skills such as time management, executive functioning tasks, social skills, goal development, etc.

ADHD medication and Behavioral TherapyMedication aimed towards ADHD symptoms creates an opportunity for our students to hear what we have to say. Then, it is the behavioral coaching that students (and parents) receive that cements these changes and allows for success to become a learned behavior.

Instead of pitting ADHD medication and Behavioral Therapy against each other, we should seek effective ways in which the benefits of both strategies can be utilized to foster the ability for each of our ADHD boarding school students to pay attention and focus in order to maximize their learning experience.

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Modeling Authenticity for ADHD Boys

by Jacob Hafkin, Cherokee Creek Boys School TherapistJacob Hafkin - Cherokee Creek Boys School Therapist and ADHD Coach

Part of the Cherokee Creek Mission Statement encourages boys and their families “to discover what is real and true about themselves…”

When a student enters CCBS, he begins as a “Visionary”.  In this quadrant of the CCBS Medicine Wheel, the core value is truth, and they are challenged and taught how to tell the truth without blame or judgement.

For so many of our students struggling with ADHD, truth is mixed up with feelings of failure, disorganization, and despair.  Their past few years have been marred by behavioral infractions, incomplete assignments, fractured friendships and lost time.  Their diagnosis of ADHD has become an excuse, or an explanation for why “they can’t”.  The truth that their learning style may be different from others is covered up by shame and guilt.

CCBS Students in Classroom designed for ADHD boysCherokee Creek Boys School is a place where individual differences such as ADHD are accepted and understood.  It is here that I ask my boys to take a next step, from saying “it’s because I have ADHD” as an excuse, to learning how to modify, adapt and accommodate their learning differences.

Every staff member at CCBS is an ADHD Coach.  The truth is that life can be made more difficult if you have issues with sustaining attention for a task.  But our journey does not end with acknowledgement.  At Cherokee Creek, our staff works to teach young men strategies to find success no matter their learning differences.ADHD Boys can explore the world around them at CCBS

The “Visionary” part of the Medicine Wheel encourages our students to be creative and insightful, traits that are very important as our young men search for ways to fit into their world.   On any given day you might hear a staff member say something along the lines of “Yes, you struggle with hyperactivity and have a hard time making it through class.  Let’s talk about ways to make your academic experience more successful”.

As I mentioned earlier, every staff member at Cherokee Creek as viewed as an ADHD Coach.  I’d like to extend the mantle of Coach to parents, siblings, relatives, and friends in an adolescent’s life.  At this stage, each of our students is learning how to be a man.  Our spoken advice, as well as how we model ourselves non-verbally, is providing a blueprint for adulthood.  Our students/sons are already aware of our humanity.  By sharing our thought processes with them, as well as us giving constructive and palatable feedback, we teach and encourage the behaviors we wish to see repeated.

Every staff member is an ADHD coachLiving and working so closely with my students, they see parts of me I like, as well as my struggles.  They know I’m fallible, and that is OK.  It is through watching each member of our staff deal with failure and success that they learn how to manage the same in their own lives.  I suggest parents to do the same.  If you’re an adult who has struggled with ADHD, share that with your son.  Teach him the strategies that you have used to succeed and encourage his own journey for discovering the truth to becoming a “Warrior” with the courage to overcome and persevere.

We are building resilience in these boys.  If good decisions are a manifestation of experience, and experience comes from poor judgement, we are right on track (it’s that whole “you’ve gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet” bit, right?).  As they continue on their journey towards becoming a more authentic version of themselves, let’s model the same and continue coaching them towards success.


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It Starts with TEACHERS

Boys Boarding School Dean - Denise Savidge

by Denise Savidge, Academic Dean at Cherokee Creek Boys School

Recently, we were asked a very interesting question: “What are you doing at Cherokee Creek to reverse the statistic that 70% of all “D’s” and “F’s” in schools are given to boys?”

Let me answer that question by addressing what happens in a scenario in which a boy who has been floundering with “D’s” and “F’s” in another school, has become a student at CCBS, and is now under the watchful and supportive care of our wonderful teachers.

Success in the classroom starts with TEACHERS…

Boys Boarding School TeacherTeachers who operate under a strengths-based model, seeking out what natural “smarts” a child already possesses.*

Teachers who go out of their way to meet a student at his individual level — or self-perceived level — and then support and scaffold until that level is consistently raised.

Teachers who understand that it is easier for a student to repeat success once he has hit that first successful moment and been praised and encouraged for doing so.

Teachers who have the luxury of teaching to reasonable class sizes and aren’t under the constant pressure of standardized testing or worrying about their jobs being attached to “making numbers.”

Boys Boarding School CoachTeachers who are appreciated and valued for their ability to build relationships with their students first and worry about missing assignments next (but not forgetting them).

Teachers who can count on second-shift staff to follow-up on missing assignments, holding them accountable for getting it done before they can do fun, after-school stuff (in loco parentis).

Teachers who design lessons that can be completed in a class period and don’t send home meaningless and repetitive drill sheets for homework.

Teachers who smile, realizing that the attitude they bring to the classroom can make or break their students’ day.

Boys Boarding School TherapistTeachers who are allowed to not only high-five or pat backs, but can appropriately hug a student and tell them how proud they are without fear of “no touching” rules and reprimands.

Teachers who care about making schoolwork fun, engaging, discussion-worthy, relevant, and boy-friendly.

Teachers who allow students to have a vote in what they read, what they learn, and how to prove their knowledge once the lesson is over.

Teachers who understand that all behavior is communication and choose to root out the underlying issue rather than take it personally.

Teachers who value the child who can create a PowerPoint better than he can fill in bubbles, proving that he really does understand why Atticus Finch chose to defend Tom Robinson.

Boys Boarding School StaffTeachers who find “zero-tolerance” policies ridiculous and give second, third, and thirtieth chances … because middle school boys need them.

Teachers who are given ample time to plan, communicate with other staff, and engage with students outside of teaching hours.

Teachers who allow students to “take space” for anxiety or energy needs by moving around the classroom, wiggling on a yoga ball, or throwing basketballs just outside the door.

Teachers who make it a standard operating procedure to care about their students and find ways for their students to experience success, no matter how small, and remember to tell them before they leave the classroom for the day.

To summarize… at Cherokee Creek Boys School, we run our classrooms the way we believe all classrooms should be run: With the idea that each boy has a special gift and can succeed once he discovers it.

*from Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences @OfficialMIOasis

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Like Riding a Bike…

by Denise Savidge, Academic Dean, Cherokee Creek Boys Boarding School

Denise Savidge - Academic Dean - Cherokee Creek Boys Boarding School

Denise Savidge

There is an old saying: “It’s like riding a bike.” Meaning that once you’ve learned the skill of balancing and pedaling, it is ingrained in your mind and you can never forget how to do it. Or can you?

A video that has now reached more than 8 million views tells the story of The Backwards Brain Bicycle – a brain challenge created with a regular bicycle and the addition of two gears. The two gears serve to reverse the steering mechanism so that turning the handlebars to the right makes the front wheel turn left and vice versa. The narrator is Destin Sandlin, an American engineer and the host of Smarter Every Day, which is an educational video series on YouTube. His frustration in learning to ride the new bike is evident.

Like Riding a Bike video

It would seem that making the switch in your brain would be simple – just remember to turn the opposite of the direction you want to go. It can’t be that difficult once you’ve mastered the regular steering concept. As the narrator points out, having the knowledge of what to do and doing it are two different things.

The attempts caught on video are hilarious and entertaining, but tell us a lot about knowledge, understanding, and neuroplasticity.  Adult learners seem to have the most difficulty “unlearning” something they know. It took Destin 8 months to master the bicycle enough to navigate with few wobbles.

His young son, who has been riding a bike only three years, mastered the necessary technique in two weeks. Call it habit or ingrained learning, once you do something a certain way for a period of time, it is harder to change the longer  that period of practice is. A young brain’s neuroplasticity – ability to change the pathways of information regarding skills, behaviors, and emotions – makes learning and unlearning easier for children.

As you watch the video, think to yourself “How long have you been riding your bicycle? How long would it take you to unlearn it? Would you give up mastering it? And what if you substituted a behavior or bad habit for the word ‘bicycle’?” As adults, we may not be patient enough with ourselves to unlearn and relearn the tasks we need to take on in life.

Which brings to mind the other old saying: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Or in this case, you can … but it may take an awful lot longer.

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Cherokee Creek Boys Boarding School Alumni Challenge

For 10 days In June 2014, alumni from Cherokee Creek Boys Boarding School in Westminster, SC ran the river, hiked, camped and practiced leadership skills under the supervision of CCBS TREKS Manager Spencer Palmer.

Here is a short video of that event, which we hope will become an annual event of fun and learning for our alumni.

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Karate Kids

We are excited to announce that we are bringing back our martial arts program for our students at Cherokee Creek Boys School.

Boys Boarding School Martial ArtsMartial arts classes teach discipline, focus, awareness, self-control and self-defense. The physical body improves in coordination, conditioning and stamina, while the mind improves in self-esteem and confidence.

Our martial arts classes strive to offer a fun and energetic, yet disciplined, environment where students learn cooperatively. We’ll focus on breathing, balance, awareness, and posture to develop efficient ways of moving. Martial principles are incorporated into games and martial techniques with students practicing in pairs or small groups taking turns being the attacker and defender.

Our Director of Operations, Phil Fairbrother, is organizing the martial arts program. He is excited to have an opportunity to share some his personal martial arts passion and experience with our students.

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CCBS Art Club Draws Much Interest!

The CCBS Art Club was developed by CCBS students with the intention of having a weekly opportunity to create, paint, build, paste, and draw.

Within all that we do at our school, we strive to practice what we’ve learned from the Lessons of the Medicine Wheel. That includes what we do in our Art Club.

Our latest project was aimed towards the characteristic of the “Visionary” in the Medicine Wheel in which we focused upon our creativity.

Boys Boarding School ArtworkThe Visionary statement implores us to “tell the truth without blame or judgment”, and encourages us to practice being “creative,” “authentic,” “truthful,” and “insightful.” The project was inspired by Henri Matisse, and artist who was known for “brilliant color and exaggerated form to express emotion”.

The objective of the project was to use shape and color to express their name and represent their personality and character. The boys used shapes and colors to communicate their interests. (For more information about this specific project please visit

Boys Boarding School ArtworkOne loyal member of the Art Club, Richard, shares how the group originated. He explains, “A CCBS graduate named Ryan started the Art Club all by himself. He was always on time (for the gatherings) and told us what we were doing that day and how to do it. He was a leader to the group and gave us facts about art. When Ryan left, he passed on to me the ability to lead and take charge of the Art Club.”

What do you think of these masterpieces from the Matisse project? We think the boys exceeded all expectations for the guidelines of this project!

We are always looking for more ideas…what were some of your favorite art projects?

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Where Can I Get a “RESET” Button?

Denise Savidge, Academic Dean, CCBS

In Cherokee Creek’s Medicine Wheel philosophy, the “Quarter of the Visionary” has begun and the “I am” statements of creativity, authenticity, truthfulness and insight are at the forefront of our thoughts.

If I were a creative person, and I think I am, I would invent the RESET button for life. If I said the wrong thing to a coworker and hurt their feelings? PUSH, and get an instant Do-Over. When my newly licensed child wrecks her car not once, but TWICE in a month? PUSH… never happened. But alas, in a Real and True World, there is no reset button to make things all better.

Reset ButtonI have often wondered if the availability of a reset button is one of the reasons middle school boys enjoy video games so much. Society pretty much expects boys, during this time of their still-developing prefrontal cortex, to mess up. The PFC is that part of the brain that develops quicker in girls than in boys which governs executive function. “EF” relates to anything having to do with “future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social ‘control’”. Having a reset button and more “lives” in a virtual world gives middle school boys the opportunity to do over what may not come easily to them. That would be a very handy thing to have in the real world, at times.

I think teachers often choose the profession of teaching because it comes with a quasi-reset button every fall. There is a new class to greet. There are new minds to engage. There are new relationships to build. There are ALWAYS new programs coming down from somewhere out there. And there is the opportunity each and every year to improve upon the year prior.

It is that time of year again to hit the reset button at CCBS. Despite the fact that classes went all summer, there has to be a moment when someone declares that the school year has begun anew. On August 18th, most of the boys ascended to the next grade and many were placed in a new class group. They get a “mini do-over” within the “overall do-over” of past choices that comes with enrolling here. It is their time to highlight their creativity, authenticity, truthfulness, and insight. And we wish them all the best in the 2014-2015 school year!

Denise Savidge, Academic Dean, Cherokee Creek Boys Boarding School

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Dirt Therapy

Sam with his gnome garden at Cherokee Creek Boys Boarding SchoolIt was with skepticism that I first brought the idea of miniature gardening to the boys at Cherokee Creek Boys School. Everywhere you look on Pinterest and Facebook, gardening in miniature is referred to as “Fairy Gardens” or “Gnome Gardens” featuring whimsical creatures with wings. How would this go over with middle school boys for a summer project?

Nonetheless, I made a few treks to the local gardening store in search of pots, soil, stones, succulents, and other supplies that I thought would aid in creating cool, boy-centric gardens. Meanwhile, to build interest, I began work on an old terrarium that had been in my classroom for a while containing a stump and one straggly plant. For three years I had been waiting for an inspiring thought on what to do with it.

I started without comment by planting a few clippings from a succulent as well as a rooted Schefflera plant I had found as a broken and forgotten branch on the front porch. Just getting the latter to root was a huge success for me, the “Queen of Black Thumb Gardening”!

David and his gnome garden at Cherokee Creek Boys Boarding SchoolUsing a plastic spoon to dig little holes and trenches, I just started adding things: a little moss I found in my yard, a few mushrooms and a tiny little bridge I found on a fairy gardening website, a miniature birdbath with a frog in it, some stones. One by one, the boys asked me what I was doing. My answer to them was, “I don’t know. I’m just making it up as I go along.” However, they were intrigued. They wanted an old aquarium to do something with, too. Ah ha!

The next day in class, I pulled up a Pinterest page with lots of pictures of miniature gardens. “This is where I got the idea. Call it whatever you want boys, but who’s game for trying this?” I asked. Despite the preponderance of fairies, they quickly started researching ideas for their own little landscapes. Once planned, they worked for days, side-by-side digging, harvesting moss and ferns, placing rocks, building miniature bridges and houses, and fashioning little ornamentations with modeling clay and popsicle sticks. Some preferred containers and the search was on for broken pots and whatnot that would serve the purpose. Most wanted to beautify the campus on a larger scale and found nooks and niches to begin construction. The results are amazingly creative and downright cute!

Gnome garden project at Cherokee Creek Boys Boarding SchoolOne must look carefully when coming on campus to find the tiny little villages springing out of roots and under tree limbs, but they’re there. It goes to show that it’s never a given what might pique the interest of a middle school boy. However, odds are good that if it involves dirt, he will probably dig right in!

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Field Trip to Clemson University’s Digital Media Lab

Cherokee Creek Boys Boarding School Field Trip to Clemson 1Several of our Cherokee Creek boys had the opportunity to visit Clemson University’s Digital Media Lab last week at the invitation of Drs. Ryan Visser and Matthew Boyer. There, they had the opportunity to try out the audio lab to compose a song, laying down individual instrumental tracks. Clemson student Emerson taught them that three notes do not necessarily a chord make!
Cherokee Creek Boys Boarding School Field Trip to Clemson 3
The boys also had the opportunity try out a 3-D printer which printed out half of a plastic car – then, had a troubleshooting lesson on why the other half didn’t print out.  (Answer: There was nothing to support the second set of tires given the fact it was printing the car laying on its side.) However, the unfinished project provided an interesting cross section to show exactly how 3D printing works.
Cherokee Creek Boys Boarding School Field Trip to Clemson 4

Finally, the boys had the opportunity to learn Kodu, a visual code-writing program that is actually available for free at This program allows users to learn the basics of game creation while learning simple code language and linear thought processes. It was amazing to see the different landscapes, characters and actions that could come from a basic green square starting field. The boys were very creative and diverse with their ideas for game creations.
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