Horizon Academy (2004-2013) Amargosa Valley, NV/La Verkin, UT
Specialty Boarding School
History and Background Information
Horizon Academy was a behavior-modification and WWASP program founded by Jade Robinson in 2004. It originally operated under the name Bell Academy in Terra Bella, CA, but relocated to Nevada only months after opening under the name Horizon Academy after California officials refused to allow the school to continue to operate there without proper licensing. It is reported that Jade Robinson, who had been working as an adminstrator at Casa by the Sea, left to start Bell/Horizon Academy shortly before CBS was shut down by Mexican authorities.
Horizon Academy was marketed as a private, “specialty boarding school” for teenagers aged 13-18. According to their (archived) website, they claimed to help teens with a history of “behavior problems including defiance, school troubles, drug or alcohol issues and anger-management difficulties.”
It was accredited by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools (NAAS), but it is important to note that neither the United States Department of Education nor the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognizes the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools as an accrediting agency for institutions of higher education.
When asked about the average length of stay in their F.A.Q., Horizon Academy stated “Graduation from Horizon Academy is based solely on the results and changes created by the student in the school. Placing a time limit on graduation takes the focus off of the task at hand, which is making changes that work and last.” It is reported that the avergae stay was between 1-2 years, but it could be much longer. The average tuiton was reported to be as high as $3,795 per month.
The original campus was located at 1492 S Highway 373, Amargosa Valley, NV. In 2011, Horizon Academy moved into the same campus as Cross Creek at 180 N State St. La Verkin, UT 84745, and the programs merged into Youth Foundation Inc.
In 2015, a program called Northwest Academy opened in the same location as Horizon Academy. It is widely believed that Northwest Academy is a reincarnation of Horizon Academy, due to Northwest hiring many staff from Horizon Academy and other WWASP programs. In fact, the owners are Marcel and Patricia Chappuis, who both have connections to various WWASP facilities. Northwest Academy was shut down in 2019 after the owners were arrested on charges of allowing child abuse and neglect in connection with the discovery of arsenic in the school’s water supply. This campus is now the location of another Residential Treatment program called Never Give Up Youth Healing Center, although this program does not appear to be outwardly affiliated with WWASP.
Founders and Notable Staff
Jade Robinson was the Founder and and Owner of Horizon Academy. He started his career in behavior modification as a staff member of WWASP’s Spring Creek Lodge in Montana. He also worked for a time at the notorious Tranquility Bay in Jamaica until he left to help start Casa by the Sea in Ensenada, Mexico. Jade Robinson was part of a staff team directly responsible for transferring kids from CBS to High Impact, a brutal boot camp co-owned by Dace Goulding. Around 2003 he attempted to open a program called Bell Academy in California which was swiftly shut down due to licensing issues. Casa by the Sea was also shut down in 2004 citing issues with CBS operating an illegitimate pharmacy. After this, he promptly moved across the border to Nevada and opened Horizon Academy.
Chaffin Pullan is reported to have worked as an administrator at Horizon Academy. He first worked for WWASP at Cross Creek in 1991 and 1992. In 1996, he moved to Montana to open Spring Creek Lodge with his twin brother Cameron Pullan and Robert Lichfield’s brother-in-law, Dan Peart. Many allegations of abuse, as well as Social Services complaints and lawsuits have been leveled at Chaffin Pullan and his brother Cameron Pullan. The Pullan’s served as owners and administrators of the SCL facility until 2009, when the school was closed. The Pullan’s were also involved in Camas Ranch, an apparent attempt to remake a portion of the facility into an 18+ program, which failed. After this, Chaffin moved on to work at Horizon Academy.
Jason Finlinson is reported to have worked as a day staff at Horizon Academy. He first became involved with WWASP when he served as Director of Casa By The Sea. As Administrator of the boys side of CBS, Finlinson was responsible for running a brutal program that systematically abused, deprived and tormented children. He has been accused of rape of a teenage girl and countless incidents of assault and battery. In 2001, he left CBS in order to open the Academy at Ivy Ridge in New York. After Ivy Ridge was closed in 2009, Finlinson began working at Horizon Academy.
Brian Vaifanua is reported to have worked as night staff at Horizon Academy. Vaifanua started his career with WWASP at Cross Creek. Then in 1994, he opened Paradise Cove in Samoa, where he worked as Director. After Paradise Cove was shut down he moved back to Cross Creek and then went on to become director of Midwest Academy, in Keokuk Iowa.
Like other WWASP programs, Horizon Academy used a level system based on a merit/demerit structure. The levels were called “statuses.”
According to their website, “using a choice-based system, students earn merits/demerits for daily choices. This allows students to recognize the positive and negative consequences for personal decisions. With self-awareness, positive attitude and hard work, students progress through six statuses. Each status advancement earns additional responsibilities and privileges that for most students, were previously taken for granted. This process allows students to create the results they desire and earn their rewards.”
The program at Horizon Academy, like other WWASP facilities, followed a strict set of rules. Everyday activities like speaking, using the bathroom, walking freely between rooms, taking showers and talking to parents were restricted by staff. Rule infractions were punishable by demerits, in which a resident would lose a certain amount of the points they had accumulated and would therefore be forced to remain in the program for longer.
While the school was co-ed, the boys and girls in the program were seperated. There was no regular mixing of the genders. They do not dine together, they did not study together, they were only allowed in each other’s presence during joint lecture series or the odd field trip.
Horizon Academy has been reported by survivors to have used excessive restraints and solitary confinement, called “isolation.” It has also been reported that the program practiced conversion therapy on its LGBTQ+ residents.
Until the behavior of the teenager was modified to a certain level in the level system, the only kind of communication with family is by letters. Phone calls are considered a privilege. Once both the parents and the detained teenager had taken part in a number of “seminars” (LGAT’s) the parents were allowed to visit.
The following is the daily schedule at Horizon Academy (2009), as described by their website:
- 7:00: Wake up, shower, dress, prepare for the day.
- 7:30: Breakfast
- 8:00: School
- 9:30: P.E.
- 11:00: School
- 12:30: Lunch
- 1:00: Leisure: games, reading
- 2:00: Dorm Meeting, aka “Review”
- 3:00: School
- 4:30: Motivational (audio, video or group reading)
- 5:00: Devotional, quiet time
- 6:00: Dinner
- 6:30: Structured Activity
- 7:30: Educational Video
- 8:30: Journaling, reflections, and daily information sheet
- 9:30: Prepare for shutdown
Abuse and Closure
Horizon Academy is widely reported to have been an abusive program. Survivors report methods of conversion therapy, phsyical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect.
In 2011, Jade Robinson decided to merge Horizon Academy with another WWASP program, Cross Creek in La Verkin, UT. Horizon Academy then moved to the same campus as Cross Creek. Shortly after the merge, both Cross Creek and Horizon Academy began marketing their program as Youth Foundation Inc. around 2013.
In 2015, a program called Northwest Academy opened in the Amargosa Valley location of Horizon Academy. It was widely believed to be a reincarnation of Horizon Academy. Northwest Academy was closed in 2019 after the owners, Marcel and Patricia Chappuis, were arrested on 43 counts each of allowing child abuse or neglect in connection with arsenic being found in the school’s water supply. Prior to opening Northwest Academy, Marcel Chappuis was a psychiatrist in private practice who provided medical services to students at Cross Creek, Casa by the Sea, Tranquility Bay, and Spring Creek Lodge and who had been Director of Psychology at Brightway Adolescent Hospital from 1992 to 1997. For additional information on Northwest Academy, please see this article.
03/10/2013: (SURVIVOR) “I went to a WWASP called Horizon Academy in Amargosa Valley Nevada. I had just turned 13 and was there for over 2 years. After I was there for a few weeks to a month I started being raped by a few students. This lasted for months. I tried to get help from the director but I was ignored. I thought that it was normal. Eventually I got to see the local sheriff and gave him a report and told him the whole story. I never heard back from him for weeks until the director told me he told my dad, sheriff and every one else that I made the whole thing up. Before I go on, I do NOT want to continue any legal stuff. Last night I submitted my story to /r/rapecounseling because I’ve been having excessive flashbacks and night terrors and I felt i need to get it off my chest. (i’ll put what I said below.) A few hours ago my dad went through my history and found that I submitted that. He was furious. He said he was going to send me back. And I heard him talking to someone on the phone. Im panicing I cant go back there. PLEASE DO NOT DO ANYTHING WITH THE POLICE OR ANY ORGANIZATION. If my dad really isnt going to send me somewhere and the cops call, I’m fucked. I just want to know what to do, or leave what happened to me before I get brainwashed again. Heres what I posted on /r/rapecounseling: Honestly I dont even know where to start. I’m (M,16) and am currently living at home with my dad and doing online school. I’ve have not yet been diagnosed with any mental illnesses, but my therapist believes I may have PTSD. I’ll start by saying I was born into a normal, happy family, Mom, Dad, and sister. When I was three my mother was diagnosed with leukemia and was hospitalized by the time I turned 5. So my mom was away in a different state and my dad was with her. Thats when I first felt alone, isolated and unloved. She died when I was 8 and I was devastated. After that I wasn’t doing well in school, and had a few mental breakdowns, especially after my grandma died. (keep in mind that I’m not trying to ramble, I’ve just never really shared much about myself.) I’ll skip ahead to when I was 12. I ran away from home, didnt get far at all, but my dad was furious and said he going to send me to a “boarding school” Except it wasn’t a boarding school. It was one of many facilities out there called the World Wide Association of Specialized Programs in the middle of a desert in Nevada. I was the youngest one there, and one of the few that wasn’t court ordered (there were about 100 kids there at the time.) The feeling of betrayal and distrust towards my dad was overwhelming. Like I said most people there were court ordered, violent, scary, and worse of all, horny. One day, after being there for a few weeks, I went to go to the dorms to do laundry with a few other people, 2 students and a staff. I remember turning around the corner, seeing a white pillow fly at me, and being about to breathe. I don’t know if I was unconscious from being in shock, or being chocked, but I woke up with an unbearable pain between my legs. The two boys would describe what they did to me over and over every day, and the staff member watched. After the second time they did this, I tried to find help. I talked to the director of the facility, to see if I can get something done about what was going on. He was able to get the local county sheriff to come question me. He had me write a report, and I did and I gave it to him. The sheriff told me he will send a detective to come question me and the kids. 2 weeks pass by, no detective. I was able to talk to the director again and he told me that he told the sheriff and my dad that I admitted to making the whole thing up…. What he told me has been stuck in my head ever since, his voice and everything. So the rape continued, almost every week, by different students, and and different staff members watching. Eventually I gave in, I let them because there was NOTHING else I could possibly do. I had live live with this for a long 28 months. I haven’t been able to cry since then, I don’t feel passion, or love, or happiness. Sadness would be a blessing compared to what I’ve been feeling for the past 3 years. I’ve lost all of my faith, my spirituality, and the trust I could have in my dad. The entire time I was there, he would brag and brag about how wonderful his life was going, he even got married. I don’t want to sound whiney or like I’m exaggerating. I’ve never gotten into this much detail about what happened before, and to be honest, I trust you guys, guys who I don’t even know, more than my dad. So yeah, I just started seeing a therapist and I hope it goes well and maybe I can move on. So feel free to ask me any questions you want, and please give me feedback or something, I realy need help.” – Anonymous (WWASP Survivors) (originally posted here on Reddit, but the original post has since been deleted)
10/15/2012: (SURVIVOR) “As a student enrolled in horizon academy and riverview academy i was constantly the subject of laughter and disrespect by the staff Yahia Irochen, He called himself a strong man homosexuality was unacceptable for him. As a ‘punishment’ for me being a gay guy he emotionally abused me on daily basis and told other students gay jokes about me which hurt a lot. Once when we went to a ‘Field Trip’ to the lake in (Southern Utah) i did not get in the water so he called the other guys and told am to pick me up and throw me in the water, even though i was screaming and telling them that i did not want to they still dropped me in a rocky area of the lake and as i got up i got pushed into the jagged rocks again this time by Yahia where i got hurt and bruised along with multiple cuts. He was just watching all of this and laughing. this was one of the most traumatic experiences in my life” – Alexander C. (WWASP Survivors)
02/26/2012: (SURVIVOR) “In September 2009, after admitting to my parents that I was atheist, I was abruptly woken in the middle of the night by two strange men who subsequently threw me in a van and drove me 200 mi. to a facility that I would later find out serves the sole purpose of eliminating free thinking adolescents. These places exist IN AMERICA, they’re completely legal, and they’re only growing. It’s the new solution for parents who have kids that don’t conform blindly to their religious and political views, let me explain: After the initial shock of what I thought was a kidnapping, it was explained to me that my parents had arranged for me to attend Horizon Academy because I admitted to them that I was atheist and didn’t agree with a lot of their hateful views. Let me give you a detailed run-down of my experience here: To start off it’s a boarding school where there is literally no communication with the outside world, the people who work here can do anything they want, and the students can do absolutely nothing about it. The basic idea is that you’re not allowed to leave until you believably adopt their viewpoints and push them off on others. The minimum stay at these places is a year, an ENTIRE YEAR, that means no birthday, no christmas, no thanksgiving etc.; my stay lasted 2 years. The day to day functioning of this facility is based on a very strict set of rules and regulations: you eat what they give you, do what they tell you (often just pointless things just to brand mindless submission in your brain), and believe what they tell you to believe. Consequences for not adhering to these regulations include not eating for that day, being locked in small rooms for extended periods of time and the long term consequence of an extended stay. There’s a lot more detail and intricacies I could get into, but my main purpose was to spread awareness to the only group of people I feel like could do something about this. Feel free to ask me anything about my stay, I could go on for days about some of the ridiculous things I went through.” – u/hotpeanutbutter (Reddit)
HEAL Program Information – Horizon Academy
Horizon Academy Website #1 (archived, 2006)
Horizon Academy Website #2 (archived, 2007)
Students Recall Special Schools Run like Jails (New York Times, 07/23/2013)