Wellspring Academy

42675 Road 44 
Reedley, CA 93654


Shannon Karian, M.A

13 -


Call admissions department for current tuition.

A minimum enrollment of three months is required for admission to Wellspring Academy

Wellspring Academies are the world’s most effective programs for weight loss. Designed for children, teens, and young adults ages 11-24, students at our Academies demonstrate the best documented outcomes of any non-surgical weight loss intervention for any age group.

Wellspring Academies (formerly Academy of the Sierras) employ a scientifically based, clinically proven approach to weight loss. Wellspring promotes a healthy lifestyle through a low-fat diet program, activity management, and comprehensive cognitive-behavioral therapy. At our campuses in California and the Carolinas, Wellspring Academies have helped hundreds of students combat childhood obesity by transforming their bodies and lives.

Call anytime. Rolling admissions year round.

Wellspring Academy students are at least 30 lbs. overweight and have been struggling with their weight for at least two years.
Beyond this, no two students are exactly alike. Many exhibit signs of low self-esteem. Some have been diagnosed with depression or other issues. Some appear as though their weight doesn’t bother them at all, although it’s obvious that returning to a normal weight range would be trans formative.

Most are behind academically, although a number of AOS students are excelling academically but are unsuccessful at balancing academics with other areas of their lives.

Some prefer solitary activities and have poor social and conflict resolution skills. Others have many friends and participate in various extracurricular activities.

Many have been actively attempting to lose weight, some for quite a long time. Others aren’t ready to acknowledge the problem. For these students, enrollment criteria require that, in a phone interview, they demonstrate an understanding that AOS could be an important opportunity for them and that they are willing to give AOS a try.

Wellspring Academy campuses are the world’s first year-round residential programs for weight loss for children, adolescents and young adults. Utilizing the Sierras Solution which promotes low-fat diet, activity management, and behavioral change for long-term weight management, Wellspring is the best non-surgical option available for overweight and obese youth.

In addition to our California and North Carolina boarding schools, Wellspring offers several unique programs, including the Wellspring College Program, on the campus of Wellspring California, and summer programs at each campus.

Photography - A skill that they can develop throughout their lives. Horticulture - Learned in the heart of California's agricultural basin. Auto shop - Once a staple in public education, now a hard-to-find and exceedingly popular elective. Recreational sports - Individual and noncompetitive team sports, including bicycling, volleyball, tennis, swimming, baseball, and basketball.

Introduction to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) applies knowledge gained through basic and applied scientific research in psychology and related fields (e.g., learning, memory, emotions, physiology) to problems we face in our lives. Knowledge gained from the past 40 years of research has taught us many things about weight control, much of which has not penetrated conventional wisdom or media reports on the subject. For example, many theorists used to espouse the view that obesity is a sign of a neurosis or some type of psychological weakness. In contrast, research comparing overweight to non-overweight people has failed to support that viewpoint. Overweight people are just as smart and just as well (and poorly) adjusted as non-overweight people. Overweight people, however, differ dramatically from their leaner peers in the ways their bodies work. For example, an overweight person’s body, compared to a non-overweight person, has:

Many more fat cells (that act like hungry baby sparrows with their mouths wide open all the time)
A greater ability to store food more efficiently (called “diet induced thermogenesis”)
Different levels of hormones and enzymes that maximize the storage of fat and affect hunger (like Leptin and Lipoprotein Lipase)
A tendency to transport any fat consumed into storage (in fat cells) rather than into muscles to be used for energy
CBT can help overweight people manage their unfortunate (“obesogenic”) biologies more effectively. CBT helps them become super-normal self-regulators who are better able to set goals, observe themselves systematically, stay committed and manage the stress of everyday living. Some students at the Academy need CBT to help them overcome anxiety, depression and other problems as well.

Research published in the 1990s compared very overweight children who had received CBT for weight loss with equally overweight children who didn’t received this treatment (the control group). Ten years later, the control group actually gained weight and averaged 60% overweight whereas the CBT group lost weight and averaged 30% overweight. Academy of the Sierras outcomes are expected to surpass even these dramatic long-term results because of the huge benefit of being able to control and maximize the facilitative aspects of the environment.

The CBT Program at Academy of the Sierras

Key components of the CBT Program at Academy of the Sierras include stimulus control, goal-setting, self-monitoring, decisional counseling, rational emotive therapy, relapse prevention training, positive focusing and stress management. These techniques help students develop the “supernormal” skills and emotional control they need in order to enhance their self-regulatory skills, manage their environments and stay highly committed to success. We think of this approach as coaching the students to view themselves as “athletes in training.” Athletes have to use super-normal self-regulatory skills to transform their bodies. So do weight controllers. This perspective helps students feel empowered, for it inspires them to think of themselves as athletes in training rather than as inadequate or weak-willed.

Students will have 4-7 CBT sessions per week with Academy of the Sierras therapists (called “Behavioral Coaches” at school). Sessions will be one-on-one as well as in a group setting. Students write out specific goals during each session (copy kept by participant and behavioral coach), self-monitor food and activities daily, journal daily and read excerpts from books and handouts.

A typical CBT session is as follows:

Review of each student’s accomplishments in the prior day(s). The tone of these reviews will be consistently positive, oriented to problem solving and reinforcement of specific accomplishments.
Integration of a CBT/weight control topic, such as stimulus control, 5-step problem solving, decisional counseling, stress management/coping, and healthy obsessions.
Quiz (on readings assigned in the prior session).
Assignment of new readings.
Review of behavioral contracts (goals).
Individual sessions will also review progress and self-monitoring journals, focusing on the details of each student’s efforts.
Each student progresses from level to level based upon meeting the individualized academic, diet, activity and therapeutic goals in their Personal Achievement Plan. As they achieve these goals, students gain recognition and privileges as well as responsibilities. One important responsibility involves assisting peers by teaching newer students what they have learned.

The Academic, Diet Management, Activity Management, and CBT Programs at Academy of the Sierras are interconnected and mutually reinforcing with respect to weight loss, academic progress and personal growth.

Therapy for Additional Issues

Most students bring issues other than weight problems to school. Low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and attentional problems can accompany overweight and obesity. Coming to Academy of the Sierras generally produces clear and almost immediate improvements in mood and self-esteem as students are in a peer group working together in a constructive manner to overcome the same problem, and are no longer teased or singled out.

Some issues, including clinical depression and bulimia, will require more direct intervention. The clinical team at Academy of the Sierras, led by the Clinical Director, has ample experience in dealing with all psychological issues that typically cause or result from excess weight. Following a comprehensive assessment upon admission, the clinical team provides individual counseling as needed to help address these additional issues.

Wellspring Academy is centrally located in the San Joaquin Valley area of California, lying just inland between the state's coastal mountain ranges and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, approximately twenty five miles southeast of the City of Fresno. The beautiful and dramatic natural surroundings help minimize distractions on campus while teaching students to appreciate nature and to love being active in the outdoors. In addition, the rural setting provides ample exposure to cultural events and community service.

Academy of the Sierras is approximately a half-hour drive from Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

Housing and Facilities

Students live in a modern, well-appointed and newly renovated residence hall. Boys and girls live in separate sections with two students per suite. Each suite has a common room and in-suite full bathroom. Both boys and girls have a large lounge area with vaulted ceilings and comfortable couches for academic work, socializing with friends, and recreation. An enclosed garden patio in each lounge area allows students to be outside in a supervised venue.

Parents will find the residence halls at Academy of the Sierras comfortable, inviting, and safe for students. All students are responsible for keeping their rooms and lounges neat and clean. Academy of the Sierras provides washers and dryers for students to use. The common recreation room in the residence hall includes two pool tables, a piano, air hockey and foosball. The dining hall is only steps away from the residence hall and school area. Classrooms in the academic building have been recently renovated.

All families are invited to visit Academy of the Sierras for an individual tour.

Academy of the Sierras is in continuous communication with each family about their child’s progress with respect to academic, diet, activity and therapeutic objectives. Parents and faculty will be in frequent contact via phone and Internet. On the unique “Parent Check-In” Web site, information about each student’s progress is updated several times weekly and posted online, to be accessed only by the parent of the specific student..

Although students must remain in residence except on short, planned holidays around Thanksgiving, the Winter Holidays, and select religious holidays, families are always welcome at Academy of the Sierras for educational seminars and other special events held throughout the school year. We encourage families to attend as many as possible.

Several major airlines fly into Fresno Yosemite International Airport , which is in close proximity to Academy of the Sierras. This makes it convenient for parents to come for school-wide activities and to schedule visits with their children.

Wellspring Academy is devoted to learning and achievement.

Wellspring Academy is proud to offer a comprehensive student loan program, making the Academy affordable for most families. Loans are available to cover all expenses, including tuition, enrollment fees and travel. Low interest rates and a 20-year amortization period allow families to finance the program with affordable monthly payments. In some instances payments can be deferred for up to 6 months. Loans have no prepayment penalty or cancellation fees.

The Academy is pleased to offer parents assistance with the loan process. Educational Loans provides personal, hassle-free assistance throughout the loan process. Educational Loans provides:

One point-of-contact to find the best loan for your student
Pre-approval often within 24-48 hours
Lowest interest rates
Affordable monthly payments
No prepayment or cancellation fees
Academy of the Sierras strongly recommends that families work through Educational Loans rather than directly with a lender. Please call Educational Loans at (208) 755-3079 and tell them you are interested in a semester or two at the Academy of the Sierras for your child. Please click here to request more information about Educational Loans


Wellspring Academy is proud of its administrators, educators, clinicians and other professionals. They have a passion for healthy living and look forward to meeting your family and welcoming your child to the School.

Ryan Craig, J.D., is Executive Director of Academy of the Sierras and President of Healthy Living Academies. Ryan is a leader in education, having been a Director of four education companies and advised the U.S. Department of Education. He received his Bachelor's degree in Literature and Economics summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale College and his law degree from the Yale Law School.

Phil Obbard is Director of Academy of the Sierras. In his career, Phil has overseen the development of weight loss and fitness management software for Slim-Fast Foods worldwide. He has also provided business and technology consulting to Fortune 500 corporations and major nonprofit organizations. Phil received his Bachelor's degree in History from Yale.

Daniel S. Kirschenbaum, Ph.D., is Clinical Director of Healthy Living Academies and a professor at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. He has developed several very successful weight loss programs affiliated with hospitals, has been a consultant for the U.S. Olympic Committee, Weight Watchers, Novartis Nutrition, and is a Past President of the Division of Exercise and Sport Psychology of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Kirschenbaum is the author of over 100 articles in scientific journals and eight books, including Treatment of Childhood and Adolescent Obesity and the 9 Truths About Weight Loss, the latter unanimously endorsed by the Board of Directors of the American Council on Exercise as "the best book ever written for the public on how to lose weight and keep it off."

Dan Barney is Program Director of Academy of the Sierras. Dan has been working with adolescents at Aspen Education programs for five years. Prior to joining Aspen, Dan worked with adolescents in other residential settings for five years. In his role as Program Director at the Academy, Dan sets the schedule and directs the Activity Management and Personal Training programs. He is also responsible for the overall health and well-being of the community.

Molly Carmel, MSW, is Clinical Director of Academy of the Sierras. Molly has had experience in the weight loss field working at weight-loss camps as both a therapist and aerobics director. Throughout her career, Molly has worked with adolescents with eating disorders, substance abuse issues, educational and learning disabilities, and with at-risk youth in a range of settings. She received her Bachelor's degree in Social Work from Cornell University and her Master's degree in clinical practice from Columbia University School of Social Work.

John Wright, J.D., is Academic Director of Academy of the Sierras. John achieved a law degree from Tulane Law School and his Bachelor's degree in Political Science from Yale. John is a veteran, having served in the U.S. Army from 1991 to 1996 where he first gained experience in education by teaching in Korea. He has also provided educational consulting services for the Veterans Administration.

Becky Pfeiffer, M.Ed. is Senior Academic Advisor of Academy of the Sierras. Becky has 27 years in the field of education with a broad and diverse cross-cultural background. Her administrative and classroom experience in both public school systems and private schools enables her to effectively construct and implement curriculum that ensures all students may enjoy, grow and develop in their education. Becky received an M.A. in Education Administration from California State University, Fresno and a B.S. in Child Development from San Diego State University. She has spoken at many conferences and events at the state and national levels. Becky has been recognized by the United States Congress and California's State Senate for her outstanding contributions to the field of education.

David Burns is Operations Director of Academy of the Sierras. For many years he was an administrator at the University of California at Berkeley. David brings a wealth of experience in food services, human resources, finance, and facilities management. As Operations Director David ensures that Dining Services provide nutritious and tasty meals and that facilities are clean and well maintained. His philosophy is to exercise "best practices" in all aspects of operations.

Shannon Karian, M.A. is Admissions Coordinator of Academy of the Sierras. She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from the University of California at Irvine where she also minored in Art History. She earned her Masters of Science Degree in Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy at California State University of Fresno, and has worked as a therapist and care manager in both adolescent psychiatric and school settings. She has experience teaching reading programs and has authored an educational book on the Bill of Rights. Prior to joining AOS, Shannon helped develop the first therapeutic Internet journaling Web site. Shannon currently resides in Fresno with her husband and three children.

Will Charlton, MD, FAAP is Medical Director of Academy of the Sierras. Dr. Charlton has done research in the field of pediatric and adolescent obesity, and is involved in various community organizations addressing the issue. He attended Keck School of Medicine at The University of Southern California and completed a pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles . He is on staff at Sierra Kings District Hospital where he directs a rural children’s health clinic.

Connie Schneider, PhD, RD is Nutrition Director of Academy of the Sierras and Nutrition Social Marketing Director for the University of California Cooperative Extension , Fresno . As a registered dietitian, she has over twenty years of experience working with individuals, hospitals, and communities related to life span nutrition, diabetes, heart health, and food management. Dr. Schneider is certified by the American Dietetic Association in childhood and adolescent weight management. She received her doctorate in nutrition and food management from Oregon State University . Classes taught at Oregon and Fresno State include food systems management, resources management, nutrition, life span nutrition, community nutrition, and sports nutrition.

Jon Peterson is Director of Fitness and Personal Training of Academy of the Sierras. Jon has been involved with the fitness industry for nearly eight years, and has spent the past six years working with youth in various capacities. Jon has been a part of two national championship high school baseball teams and went on to play at Simpson University , where he threw the school’s first no-hitter and holds the single season home run record. For the past three years, Jon has worked in special education while running a successful personal training business in San Diego . As Director of Fitness and Personal Training at AOS, Jon trains students in proper exercise techniques and concepts, while encouraging students to safely break through preconceived mental and physical barriers. As a result, AOS students are highly trained, determined and successful.

Advisory Board

Denise E. Wilfley, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, Medicine, and Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where she also serves as the Director of the Weight Management and Eating Disorder Program at Washington University School of Medicine. She has held faculty positions at Yale University and San Diego State University as well as her current appointment with Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Wilfley is funded by the NIH in a programmatic line of research examining the causes, prevention, and treatment of eating disorders and obesity among children, adolescents, and adults. She is actively involved in several multi-center psychological treatment trials for patients with eating disorders and obesity as well as individuals at risk for the development of eating disorders. Dr. Wilfley has published over 100 original peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and reviews, and she has received numerous awards for her work, including an NIMH FIRST Independent Research Award and a Midcareer Investigator Award in Patient Oriented Research. Dr. Wilfley serves on the editorial boards of Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, the International Journal of Eating Disorders, the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, the Journal of Cognitive Therapy, Body Image, Current Nutrition Reviews, and Obesity Research. She is the Membership Selection Chair and on the board of directors of the Eating Disorders Research Society and a Fellow of both the Academy for Eating Disorders and the North American Association for the Study of Obesity.

Georgia Kostas, M.P.H., R.D., L.D., is the founder and former director of the nutrition program at Cooper Clinic. She is the author of The Cooper Clinic Solution to the Diet Revolution (a revised edition of The Balancing Act Nutrition and Weight Guide) and The Guilt-Free Comfort Food Cookbook. She is a contributing author to many other books, including several by Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., M.P.H. Her specialties include preventive and cardiovascular nutrition, weight control, wellness, and sports nutrition. Kostas received her B.A. in biology from Rice University and M.P.H. in nutrition from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. She completed her residency in dietetics from Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans. Kostas received the "Sports and Cardiovascular Nutritionists National Achievement Award" from the American Dietetic Association in 1990 and is the

Works with children battling overweight issues

Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia


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