The Gem Formula



Our Nutritional approach is Inclusive and Eclectic

We will be working from a data base of the best research from the most prominent and credible names in childhood obesity research. Obesity is not a one size fits all disease and requires a deep knowledge of scientifically sound interventions to match a student’s specific biologic barriers.

We view knowledge as power in the student’s ability to control their environment and empower change. Educating the students in nutrition so they understand food from a nutrient and metabolism perspective helps to establish a “how particular foods help me” perspective. A great deal of time is spent on learning substitutions that help maintain flavor but remove unwanted aspects from food such as sugars and fats. Student will get a multitude of opportunities to go grocery shopping and learn how to read and understand labels.

Be an Agent of Change

To truly be an agent of change in their own life as well as the lives of others our students need to be empowered with the knowledge and skills to make those changes. Culinary instruction helps create autonomy and self sufficiency.

This class dovetails well with the lesson learned in the nutrition class and lets the students apply what they learn by actively utilizing substitutions creating their own recipes and safely working in a kitchen. This is all meant to foster independence and giving the student power in actively working to treat the disease of obesity.

Finding Out what Inspires You

One of the most challenging aspects that students report to “fearing” coming into the transformation process is activity, fitness or exercise; it’s not surprising for the students to have an aversion to this program component. Many have had experiences with not being able to keep up with their peers, not having developed the motor skills to manage movements at their current weight or proportion, and a fear of injury.

Gem Academy approaches activity from a baseline movement perspective of walking. In every activity period of the day, regardless of what the scheduled activity is, walking will always be an option. The American Heart Association, as well as the U.S Surgeon General, uses the 10,000 steps metric as a guideline to follow for improving health and decreasing risk of heart disease. This will be the baseline at Gem Academy as well. Depending on the student’s weight, 10,000 steps burn an additional 400 to 600 calories per day.

Our goal is not to create an athlete out of every student, our goal is to find out what activity each student will enjoy to the point they will continue to do it outside of Gem Academy. This will be done through a wide variety of movement based games, sports, and work with our fitness professionals. While a number of students have gone on to become certified Zumba and Spin instructors, 5 & 10K runners, personal trainers as well as participating in sports at their high school upon their return, we find it necessary to foster the individual in whatever form that takes.

Each student will be working weekly with a NASM certified personal trainer to continue to support and assess the student progress. NASM is the industry leader in personal training certification and has an additional weight loss specialist certification. Gem’s goal is to create a support structure that can be replicated outside of the Academy so we find it necessary that each student knows how to confidently work with a trainer much in the same way they will their Behavioral Coach.

Understanding Your Body

Many students will enter the change process with a long list of frustrations of diets they’ve tried, fads that failed and unsuccessful efforts they have internalized as their own short comings. It is fair to say that a vast majority of young people struggling with weight have a very scant understanding of the disease, it’s real causes, and what, if anything they can do about. We can’t be expected to beat an enemy we don’t understand.

The students will be taught how to move against conjecture and misinformation and that means understanding the condition of obesity as well as why and how obesity affects them down to a cellular level.

This is meant to consistently give our students the understanding of how to modify their behavioral interventions as they reach differing barriers.

Gem is designed to help our students remove themselves from harm’s way in regards to weight related health risks and empower them with a knowledge base and skill set to make them a change agent in their lives and the lives of others. That is our goal for every student and will be the basis for recommendation on when it’s time to transition home. The typical stay is about 10-12 months.


Something I’ve learned since being here is unless I work on fixing my mentality and how I view myself as a person, I’m going to feel the exact same way as I did when I walked in… I didn’t realize that before. (R.M. following a 100 lb weight loss)

Therapy That Leads to Lifelong Change

In helping our students make the changes they so desperately want to make it takes a deep understanding of where they came from, what their experiences have been and what is important to them.

Some of the common themes in struggling to make a change are habit, culture, comfort, family, fear, tradition, trauma AND the combination of any or all of these.

Other barriers will unveil themselves during the transformations process and new ones will emerge after the process. This is all part of the therapeutic work they will do with our Masters and PhD clinicians called behavioral coaches.

It is common to have co-occurring issues along with obesity and those are an expected part of the treatment. To effectively treat eclectic and diverse students we employ an eclectic and diverse therapeutic approach featuring the following modalities.

Experts in the field of weight loss

Experts in the field of weight loss have found that when self-monitoring is used on a regular basis, the likelihood of weight-loss success increases. Not only has the ongoing recording of when and how much is eaten or how much exercise is performed been linked with losing weight, but it also has been associated with maintaining weight loss. Self-monitoring increases the awareness of both eating and physical activity. A study by Kaiser Permanente published in 2008 found people who self-monitored twice as successful as those who did not.

While the process of self-monitoring is more important than the specific tool used, Gem Academy will utilize different technologies to increase convenience and accuracy of self monitoring.

A Gift is Only as Good as Long as it is Cherished

A precious gift is only as good as long as it is cherished, valued and maintained. We view the aftercare process as important and challenging as the time spent at Gem. This is why we have developed tools and support to navigate the transition home and help the student and family implement the support structure necessary to be successful in their home environment. The student’s Behavioral Coach will continue to be assigned and available to the student and family until they have found someone at home, or until their services are no longer needed.

The next phase when students transition away from the first phase of after care is to enter into the 2nd (and in most cases permanent) phase of the group support. C-SAMP (Community Support And Mentoring Program)
The students will ascend to increasing levels of mentorship over time so there will always be a person who’s been where you’ve been to guide you, a person that is going through this with you, and another person that you can help given your experience.

There will be a multiple community specialists assigned as moderators. They will not only act as resources for the alumni but will also be students to the shared experiences and concerns of the alumni as to continue to shape and hone the functional curriculum of Gem Academy.

Accredited Academics

The core academic component at Gem Academy will be done in our virtual classroom in an on-line format. The greatest challenge, in regards to academics, is to meet the wide variety of national and international student’s needs through a “live” teacher classroom. While there would be a number of students “at level” with the lesson plan there would be typically some students that were behind and some that were ahead of the lesson plan.

In today’s competitive academic landscape we realize that parents and students alike, are as uncompromising in academics as they are in addressing their health.

The core academics will be provided by ASU Digital Preparatory and Primavera. Both programs are accredited by the AdvancED Accreditation Commission. This will allow our students standard, AP, Honors and College Credit options and create a seamless transition back to their home school.

These affiliations will allow Gem’s student to work “at level” regardless of how advanced or remedial they are scholastically. It is also common that once a student begins to achieve in one area, that they will begin to challenge themselves in other areas as well. This will give them the ability to accelerate their academic pursuits at will. We are currently getting our Physiology, Fitness, Culinary, Nutrition and Volunteering accredited so the classes will apply to our student’s transcripts.

To further accentuate the educational environment, the virtual classroom will be staffed by our Academic Director, Dawn Hunter during the school day and a certified learning assistant during study halls in the evenings to offer one-on-one assistance for those who may need it. Given the contracting resources of the greater Phoenix metro area, Gem will also be able to accommodate unique educational needs as they may arise.


With our opportunity to change
comes the responsibility to help someone else.

Gem’s methodologies are geared toward Growth and Understanding 

So much of changing our behaviors lies in allowing ourselves to change or at the very least adopt different aspects of our Identity. If these efforts don’t include deliberate contemplation and declaration of our purpose then it becomes very easy to fall back into old behaviors. Conversely when our purpose is clear, our identity moves to be in alignment and our behaviors support our identity.

As you can image, we are talking no small feat. That is why so much of Gem’s methodologies are geared toward helping our students find, develop, and live the purpose they believe. It is absolute critical to the long term success of our students.

The beautiful Sonoran desert in our own back yard

From hiking and horseback riding on trails in the beautiful Sonoran desert in our own back yard, swimming, canoeing and kayaking at lake pleasant 30 minutes away, witnessing the breathtaking red rock in Sedona, 1 hour away to skiing and sledding in the winter months or exploring the “Pacific Northwest-like” outdoors of Flagstaff in the summer months less than 2 hours away, Gem Academy is poised to provide its students with experiences that will give them opportunities to test their new found abilities and appreciation for the outdoors.

The greater phoenix metro area also has an immense amount of cultural, learning and entertainment opportunities including

  • Cultural festivals
  • Theater (Herberger & ASU Gammage)
  • Suns, Diamondbacks, Mercury, Coyotes, Cardinals, Rattlers
  • Water Parks , (Wet’n’Wild, Big Surf, Sunsplash)
  • Arizona Science Center
  • Numerous 5ks and fun runs
  • Not to mention the number of entertainers (bands, magicians, dance troupes, etc) that are available in the Phoenix area to perform at the school.

Embrace the Value of Gratitude

Much of the emotional growth program at Gem is laid brick by brick as one aspect builds on another. At the base of our program is to embrace the value of gratitude. Not only does it have to be modeled by our staff it also has to be nurtured and grown. In His book “Artificial Maturity” Tim Elmore curtails the necessity of emotional maturity to establish the foundation on which authentic gratitude is built. Some concepts that Elmore stated that help to cultivate maturity in teens

  1. Challenge them to take positive risks. It will replace destructive behavior.
  2. Help them build their identity from more than external sources.
  3. Travel and invest in causes that compel them to see a bigger picture.
  4. Expose them to stellar adults who can be role models.
  5. Give them responsibility.

These are all aspects either included in the curriculum or are experienced by virtue of committing to become a Gem

Serving Others on a Journey to Healing

Many of our students have come from situations where their self-worth was linked to what they could do for others since they put little value in themselves. This typically manifests in friendships that are based on utility instead of mutual respect.

Much of our work is getting student to recognize and take ownership of their gifts and strengths and identifying their intrinsic value. This can often lead to internal conflict since they have spent a great deal of time doing for others and report to “not wanting to become a selfish person”. We use philanthropy as a healthy re-harnessing of that desire to help others from “what I can give to everyone” (that ultimately depletes me) to “what services can I provide base on my newly discovered strengths” (that enriches me).