From A Woman from the school of hard knocks
Valley Springs Youth Ranch
by Dawn Young

It was my second visit on a very hot day to Valley Springs Youth Ranch and on this second very hot in August 2012 in Black, Missouri, the heat didn’t seem to bother me as much as I listened to JoAnn Becker tell me of the goals and photos we needed to design a new website for the Youth Ranch. Listening to the troubles these kids have and are going through now make my middle-class life seems so very blessed and had me in tears upon my departure from photographing the TOP NOTCH facilities.

Listening to the terms from Texas, JoAnn and Jody about classifications of the school and placing’s were a blur to me as I am not familiar with classifying people as I believe everyone puts their pants on the same way. . . one leg at a time. I heard stories of horror about some current residents and former residents without the names just the vision in my head that NO child should have to go through what these kids go through.

I come from the school of hard knocks and have taught myself how to use a camera, computer and the software to build very successful business designing websites and graphic ads. I am a Military Brat with dyslexia who thought life was very unfair growing up by making me move and never have any close friends, attending 13 different schools in 12 years and just an average, not very noticeable student, just a struggling one, a former Veterinarian Tech of over 20 years and now an owner of a successful business of graphic arts by A LOT of hard work and the love of animals, designing mainly ads and websites for horses.

I designed http://missourifoxtrotter.com and http://brushycreeklodge.com for the Becker’s a few years back so when it came time to revamp the Youth Ranch, JoAnn and George Becker asked if I would do it. Hesitant at first, as while the kids rode horses, it was not a horse site. Always looking for a challenge I accepted. My view of humans was already tainted due to the horrors humans inflict upon their pets / livestock while a vet tech but what I have learned doing this site has made me really open my eyes to humans and how much we as humans can be so cruel but yet so kind. The things that land these kids at the Youth Ranch are some of the cruelest stories I’ve heard and yet the staff at Valley Springs Youth Ranch shows me there are those that care no matter how much damage has been done!

They teach these kids the skills of REAL LIFE, the good with how to deal with the bad. How to cook, do laundry, balance a checkbook, clean, general functioning life skills, above general skills and keep their tempers in check and treat humans and animals with the respect they would like to have, and for those kids that do want to attend college they help them too. While I have not undergone the horrors of abuse these kids have, I too hated school and tried to attend college and found it not for me. I saw this in most of the kids I saw while there and realized what the Valley Springs Youth Ranch was teaching these kids was MUCH MORE than reading, writing and math. They teach them how to function in a world of such perils (Most I Can Not Even Fathom What They Have Gone Through) with a staff that truly CARES ABOUT EACH and EVERY KID there. The Kids . . . I met on this visit, came up to JoAnn and with the UT most respect hugged her and JoAnn knew each of them by their first and last name. JoAnn took the time to talk to every single one of them that had a complaint or just needed a hug. JoAnn was never in a hurry to leave a child in need to talk or just be hugged. Showing me that these kids are not just another student or resident that would mean a dollar sign to most but a human in need. The teachers I met while there were of the same caliber.

College is not for everyone and with the abuse these kids have gone through I imagine, most will never attend college but with the skills that the Ranch teaches them they can become very successful human beings just through honest hard work and a better attitude that the Ranch helps them achieve.
If you are a person that needs to help decide how to help a troubled child considering Valley Springs Youth Ranch, is in my opinion, one of the best considerations you will ever make for the child you need to help. I strongly suggest you go visit and see what I mean.

I hope you don’t have the task of hearing the horrors these kids go through, but if you are reading this I’m afraid you have and all I can say is please consider that youth you have to make a tough decision for in your heart not just your mind. I do believe Valley Springs Youth Ranch is up for the challenge to help the youth you are having to make this difficult decision for. Bless you for helping these kids Valley Springs Youth Ranch and YOU the one who now has a tough decision of where to find HELP. IT IS OUT THERE in my opinion and it’s at Valley Springs Youth Ranch in Black, MO. I hope the site I have helped design will answer some of your questions if not give them a call. http://vsyouthranch.org 


A Retired Teacher Looks at
Valley Springs Youth Ranch
By Josephine Cozean Styron

Nestled in the remote, scenic Ozark hills of Black, Missouri, Valley Springs Youth Ranch is a perfect place for the troubled youth it serves.

“Valley Springs Youth Ranch is a residential care facility. These students are all court placed,” said JoAnn Becker. She and her husband George are Assistant Executive Director and Executive Director, respectively, of the Youth Ranch. “Each of them has a CS-9 (a residential treatment referral) from the state and an Individual Education Plan (IEP),” said JoAnn.

A retired teacher (30 years in special and regular education), I had come with friends to see the facilities. What I saw was a tightly integrated system of educational and residential services, each supported by a knowledgeable and caring staff. Together they provide the tools for Valley Springs students to make the changes necessary for a better life.

In the 1980s on the site of an abandoned campground, George and Jo Ann Becker literally built both the buildings (with the help of students) and the foundations of the Valley Springs Youth Ranch program. Over time, the Youth Ranch partnered with Lesterville, Missouri R-IV Public Schools to create the Lesterville Ranch Campus on the Youth Ranch grounds. “Our program has the treatment center and the school working together,” said George. “Valley Springs provides the building and the rest of the student’s day after school. Our overall goal for the kids is to make them feel like they’re worth something,”

The Youth Ranch and the Ranch Campus rely on and support one another, integrating as soon as each student arrives at the Youth Ranch. (To learn more about the services each provides, go to the Valley Springs Youth Ranch website at vsyouthranch.org.) “Both the residential center and the school have immediate short-term goals and long-term goals when a student comes here,” said George. “We work with the students at their level.”


Ranch School Campus

The Ranch Campus school is a working blend of teacher-led academics and computer technology. I was impressed that a truly individualized academic program is created to fit each student’s specific needs. "We start with where the student is at academically, and then build on that foundation," said Principal Texas Balderas. She has developed a curriculum emphasizing coursework that will prepare students for real life, careers, and making good choices.
A student I'll call "J" will graduate in December. "This school has meant a lot to me," he said. "They've given me some good life skills, like being able to tell what's in my bank account. On Career Day, I sat down and had a job interview. The staff I live with at Valley Springs is very special to me,” said J. “They have helped me a lot.”

Mastery learning along with the A+ program and Accelerated Reader is utilized. “If a kid can’t read, they make sure he learns to read,” said JoAnn. And, there is no suspension at the Ranch Campus; instead the school emphasizes the positive. “Every quarter each student gets an award or some other kind of recognition,” said JoAnn. “The state has used our school’s curriculum as a model for this type of program.”

Valley Springs Youth Ranch

From the beginning, in addition to the residential, therapeutic, and other services offered at the Youth Ranch, Valley Springs has offered outdoor activities that students can participate in, such as swimming, camping, sports, a wagon train, and trail riding. For the students there are many mental and physical benefits of being outside in such a beautiful, untamed setting. “For some city kids it’s a real culture shock, though,” laughed JoAnn.

The Beckers raise champion Missouri Fox Trotter horses at their Valley Springs Foxtrotters ranch, and they use their horses as part of the process of breaking down the barriers students have built up so that healing can begin. “Horses don’t talk back to you and scream and cuss,” said George. Students learn to relax and communicate with their horses. All the while, they are learning about themselves. “Horses are a great tool for teaching students self-awareness,” said George.
“The horses help me calm down when I‘m stressed,” a girl told me. “They are there to listen, and the staff is here to listen and care for us. It’s good,”

The Staff

With George and JoAnn as the fulcrum, the staff at Valley Springs Youth Ranch and the Ranch Campus work together to provide students with the knowledge needed to make good choices in life. The Becker’s treat everyone with respect and honesty; and they expect the students to do the same.
And they do, in part because the students know how much the staff cares for them. One young staff member and her husband gave up their Christmas vacation to give riding lessons to students who had no place to go for the holidays. Others have stayed at their jobs as care givers for years. “George and JoAnn set high standards,” said a staff member. “We learn from them.”
“We give the students new hope and direction in life,” said JoAnn.
George added, “We tell the students that when you play cards, you play with the hands you’ve been given. If you listen to us, we can help you make a winning hand. But, it takes lots of hard work.” It's the implementation of these two ideas that makes Valley Springs Youth Ranch so successful.



Valley Springs Youth Ranch
525 County Road 816
Black, Missouri 63625
(573) 269-4291