Sunday, May 17, 2009

FLDS Life 101 – Alta Academy

The Alta Academy, located in Salt Lake City, Utah, was the school where an entire generation of FLDS children were taught by Warren Jeffs who served there as principal for 22 years. The school was located at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon on the Rulon Jeffs compound. This unusual place could be seen from the road above by skiers as they drove by it on their way up to Alta or Snowbird. The 30-thousand square-foot academy building had 44 bedrooms, 20 bathrooms, two full kitchens, two half-kitchens and two laundries, all wired with a PA system.

Location of Rulon Jeffs Compound
now being taken over by development

In 1972, the school was converted from a large home and Warren Jeffs became the principal in 1976 despite having only a high school diploma. Jeffs’ rise to power and influence started in this school. A generation of FLDS faithful spent most of their childhood at the school and look back with both fond and bad memories of the place. The school was closed in 1998 after the FLDS moved to gather at Colorado City expecting that the end of the world soon arrive. The school was finally demolished for modern development in 2008.
In the 1990s, there were about 90 FLDS families living in Salt Lake City who had children attending the school. These families did not live together in a compound, but were in various homes in the neighborhoods. They were careful to not draw attention to themselves and enjoyed backyards with privacy allowing their children to play without being watched by neighbors. The school also housed a birthing center where midwives could deliver children.

Jeffs teaching Chorus Class

The curriculum included fairly standard subjects. Jeffs taught most of the math classes, all of the history classes, accounting, geography, computer science, chemistry, and chorus. Each day began with an hour-long devotional that included hymns, scripture reading and sermons. The school's motto was: "perfect obedience produces perfect faith." The devotional was held in an enormous room on the ground floor. Those in grade 4-12, attended, while the lower grades listened over the PA system in their classrooms.

One former student shared these memories of Alta Academy:

“I am an Alta Academy graduate. I rather enjoyed going to school there. It was the only school I ever knew, so it is hard to compare it to other schools. I didn’t like the strictness of the school. We could not wear hats on school property. We could not wear shirts with any writing on them. We could not wear collarless shirts or pullovers. We could not throw snowballs, and if we did, we could be expelled for it. We were not supposed to talk to the girls. We could not wear red clothing or neon colored shoelaces.”

“In Junior High the boys and girls had separate classrooms, and they had their P.E. at different times of the day. Footballs were not allowed on school property. In Junior High and High School, the boys and girls could not play any sports together. The boys would play one sport and the girls another. Warren confiscated my football in 7th grade and told me that ‘it is a sport that only causes contention.’”

“My third grade teacher would always pull me out the classroom by my ears, every time she heard me talking when I wasn't suppose to be. She also tried to slap our hands with rulers, whenever we tapped our fingers on our desks. Of course we did everything we could to upset her. So to many of us boys it was just a game to see what we could get away with.”

“Warren did ask me personal questions, like, 'what I did after school,' and if I have ever listened to the radio, or watched TV or movies, but that was as personal as he ever got to me.”

“Overall I rather liked going to school there, despite the fact that it was so strict. They did have a very good curriculum, and we were given lots of homework. The thing I hated the most were the destruction sermons we were given every few months or so. They scared the hell out of me, and many, many of the other students. He would go into great detail describing how they would happen and what would happen. I also hated the boy-girl sermons he would give. They made you never ever want to look, or even talk to a girl until you were married. So girl friends were definitely out of the question.”

Others also hated Warren Jeff’s destruction lectures, as he described what would happen to the wicked gentiles in a few years. “Several times a year he would give us the ‘death and destruction’ sermons and some of the stuff he would tell us would scare us to death. Many of us had nightmares because of his description of the destructions. He would tell us about the blood and gore of all of the dead people in the Salt Lake Valley, and many other gory and gross details. He said many things that should have never been taught to young children.” Several times he would tell the children that “this will be our last school year” because the destructions were going to happen.

Jeffs’ history classes are of particular interest because several dozen tapes of those classes have become public. Warren started taping many of his classes so students who missed the lectures could hear them. As the collection became vast, he sold copies to members who could listen to them for hours. These history classes were actually priesthood history classes. Jeffs would tell a biblical story and then relate FLDS teachings to it such as, obey the prophet, live plural marriage, don’t touch girls, blacks are evil, the world will be destroyed, and other topics.

“Warren taught math, history and church history and led devotionals every morning. Some of our lessons were slightly modified versions of the truth. We were taught that man had never landed on the moon; it was all a staged show similar to the movie Capricorn One. Why teach us this strange fiction?” Another student recalled, “At Alta Academy, Warren told us that men have never been on the moon. He told us that the Lord would never allow man on the moon. He said that the Lord allowed them to land on a little no name planet in space but he would never allow them to land on the moon.”

The science books were doctored so that parts of the human anatomy were covered. "They would just cut little pieces of paper and stick it over the private areas even if there wasn't a private area there just to make a point."

This former member listened to excerpts of the tapes recently on the Internet. “Listening to his voice brings back so many memories that I would like to forget. Now recognizing him for what he is, his voice literally makes me nauseous. For me it is a mental trigger that brings back all the crap we had to believe in or be damned to hell, the risk of our souls being destroyed because of our unfaithfulness. The weight of unbearable guilt that his teachings put upon us made us all walk around as sinners so we were continually condemning ourselves and beating ourselves up for our failures, for our humanity. We had to constantly hurry up and be perfect before the end of the world so that we were not destroyed along with the wicked and the rest of the world while our families and loved ones were saved. When I hear his voice now it reeks of evil to me. I don’t know if it is because he is and/or that in my mind I feel so betrayed. I truly believed with all my heart. I wanted to believe.”

Jeffs even taught home economics classes to the girls. “We girls were made to dress like women on a wagon train heading west and were constantly being groomed for marriage. ‘Learn how to keep a house, behead a chicken and cook it up for your husband.’” The rules Warren laid down for us were always changing. Wearing certain colors was evil one week but perfectly OK the next.”

Jeffs’ held personal interviews with children. They were something they feared and left bad memories. They climbed long stairs to reach Jeffs’ upstairs office. Caroline Cook recalled that Jeffs counseled her nearly once per week from 2nd grade on. It is believed that Jeffs was keeping tabs on one of his favorite students. Many of his brides came from his former students. Jeffs got involved with many personal aspects of the student’s lives. “Anytime there was a supposed problem he would call the parents of the student in and literally interrogated them in very personal details of theirs’ and the student’s life. It’s almost like he gets some sort of energy release by dealing with peoples intimate problems. Maybe that’s a feeling of having power over other people.”

One girl recalled being called to Jeffs' office when she was in first grade. "Warren had been told that I was holding the hand of my seven-year-old male cousin while playing outside earlier in the day. This was true, but I had no idea why he was bringing it up. As he explained, what I had done was absolutely not to be tolerated. I was never to touch boys; I was to treat them as poisonous reptiles, as 'snakes.'"

Jeffs and the rest of the staff implemented strict discipline with some rather harsh punishments. Sloppy handwriting, an untucked shirttail, a bad grade — all were signs of a personal flaw that needed to be confessed, corrected and often punished.

“Both girls and boys were whipped so badly for minor infractions that they could hardly sit down.” Even a faithful FLDS admitted these occurred. “I was once in line for one of these beatings that you have mentioned. I did not receive one, but a very nice correction and a punishment that fit the crime.” Another student wrote, “My little brother got the paddle once when he attacked his teacher in second grade. I had a yardstick broken over my desk in seventh grade when I wouldn't be quiet. But neither of these were done by Warren Jeffs.”

One female student recalled being schooled by Jeffs "We all feared him. He beat the boys and used humiliation to gain submission. He once hauled a second grader to the front of the class, grabbed him by the ankles, and began to shake him up and down, yelling, ‘I'm shaking the evil out of him!’ Each morning at devotionals Jeffs chanted, ‘Keep sweet! Perfect obedience brings perfect faith!’ Then, he gave us a new list of rules to obey: We couldn't wear stripes. We must not wear red. Some days we weren't allowed to eat. He changed the rules daily to keep us in constant fear. One steadfast rule stated girls were never to talk to boys. If you looked or smiled at one, you were a Jezebel—a scorned woman. Since I often looked and smiled, I was in constant trouble.”

“As I got more and more rebellious, he would come up behind me while I was in a group and seize me by the back of the neck and lean down and whisper in my ear, 'Are you keeping sweet or do you need to be punished?'” After getting caught passing notes to a boy, and instigating a water fight with boys at the water fountain, she was expelled from Alta Academy. She began working in an FLDS-owned factory full of other youths who openly questioned their religion. It was a common destination for FLDS kids kicked out of the school.

Brent Jeffs, Warren’s nephew alleges that when he was five or six years old, that Jeffs and two other uncles repeatedly sexually abused him in a bathroom at the school. Brent Jeffs was backed by his father, also alleges the men abused two of his brothers; one brother committed suicide in 2001.”

This former student has fond memories of Alta Academy and of his prophet, Warren.

“All of the teachers at Alta were volunteers, and only a few of them were actually certified. To make a living Warren Jeffs was a very good accountant, and also a computer programmer. He created quite a few computer accounting programs for businesses in Utah and Idaho. I remember very well the times in class when he would be interrupted by a phone call from one of his customers. Once in Geography class, I remember him speaking to a customer in Idaho over a speakerphone, and they offered him any amount to fly up there to fix their system. We, the students of the class started to cheer him on. ‘Go, go!’ (We did this get out of getting home work) But he very carefully explained to the customer on the phone how to fix the problem. ‘Darn!’”

“One thing that I remember most about Mr. Jeffs (as we called him) besides his sincere empathy; was his incredible ability to remember names. Many times after morning devotional class, one of the younger grades would go up with their teacher to show him some of their work. He would shake their hands and call each of them by name, almost every single one, even when there was a hundred. He was always pleasant and soft spoken, you could hear in his voice the anxiousness he had for all of us to succeed.”

“Warren Jeffs became a master teacher, unlike anyone I have ever met. He wasn’t mesmerizing, he wasn’t captivating, he was engaging, and he could teach any subject. In teaching Math, History, and Geography classes he would always engage the whole class, and make us ask and answer tough questions. In Geography, he would read the Salt Lake Tribune to us and make us take notes. My senior year he was my teacher in all but two classes.”

“How I wish I could go back to the days and shake Uncle Warren's hand again. To hear him talk. To see him tease a little with that sparkle in him eye and a little grin on his lips. To feel so nervous just knowing he is going to call on you to talk in morning class. He saved me from some bad mistakes I was going into as a teen. I couldn't see at the time, but he saw and helped me pull through. My own parents didn't see, but Uncle Warren did. He even called me to make sure I was okay. To make sure the choice I had made, I felt good with. He never made me do anything. He just showed me what was happening, and what I could do to get out of the mess I was in. I owe him my life.”

At Alta Academy, Jeffs put on many skits with the children. Some videos of those skits have been made public, even a scene where Jeffs wore Groucho Marx glasses. Yearbooks show him joking around in school plays, sledding with students and playing softball.

The children never said the Pledge of Allegiance. Jaleena Fischer Jessop once confronted this fact with Jeffs in a world history class, he gave her a stern look and answered "It's because we answer to a higher power," Jaleena Jessop recalls him saying. "He didn't want us to get confused about who our allegiance was to."

In the late 1990s, Jeff instituted many changes in the school. "He decided to physically separate the two sexes into different classrooms and different buildings on the compound. The curriculum for sixth-grade girls' class was wholly unlike that of the sixth-grade boys. Our scheduled recess times and grade-level activities were different, and there was no longer a time during the school day when boys and girls had any contact." The coursework was rewritten. "Books by authors outside the church were destroyed and replaced with church-approved books. Subjects such as science and current events became less important, and instead the focus was on our religious teachings." Students were told that the unapproved books at been burned. Warren said that those who read the unworthy books would take on the evil spirits of their authors.

The Alta Academy was closed in 1998 and later sold. Warren Jeffs moved to Colorado City where he had thousands to indoctrinate with his teachings. In 2000, Warren Jeffs told FLDS faithful to remove their children from public schools in Hildale and Colorado City. Two-thirds of the students disappeared overnight from the Colorado City Unified School District. At Phelps Elementary School in Hildale, enrollment got so low that the Washington County School District was forced to close it.


Pliggy said...

You need to change your name to "grumpy old man"

onthestreet said...

I think he prefers the berry on his knoll. Sometimes, though, I think he comes off fair and balanced, because he includes the good opinions of the man, as well as the bad, which just bears out the fact that what the Lord says about such men: "Thou shalt be known for good and evil".


Berry Knoll said...

Gee, if I have this right, that is was Moroni said to Joseph Smith. So I guess I'm in good company?

Unknown said...

Ahhh, so now I understand how these FLDS followers were brainwashed.

Thank you for the VERY enlightening post.

pyrex.kitty said...

author, where did you get the quotes and memories? did you talk to these people personally? are they in another publication? i love your blog, it's answering a lot of my questions i'e had about the flds and i hope you post more sometime

Anonymous said...

He is compiling quotes from other blogs. Very well done in compiling the ramblings on other blogs and putting them together into a coherent form. Just don't ever use "onthestreet" as a reference for anything.

carlj said...

As a former flds member and a student of alta academy i can attest that the stories he has spoken of sound very well researched. the time i spent at the school sounds exactly the way it was described in this blog. I have not seen the pictures of the skits but i'm probably in them. i only attended alta for 1 year ...1996 i believe it was, my freshman year. One year was enough for me. the stress of worrying about being destroyed almost took me out, as a freshman i couldn't handle that anymore.

Edson Jeffs said...

The essay on Alta Academy is pretty accurate. I attended school there for 11 years and graduated in 1995. Although in my years you could throw snow balls and once in awhile there were school sanctioned snowball fights. I did play football with my pals and the boys and girls played sports together in PE - I guess it was changed later. Warren was definitely a soft spoken, charismatic but often stern Master of the school. It was pretty easy to get expelled though. I had heard of physcial abuse but never saw it personally in the school. I was always treated well physically The Destruction speeches in Morning Class were definitely aweful and not needed for youngsters. I do feel a got a better education (math, reading etc.) than my peers in public school.

Decker5926 said...

The house and alot of the outbuildings are still there...The actual physical location is 3601 E Little Cottonwood Rd. If you look at a closeup on Google maps, you can see that some of the other homes surrounding the main house are either on the actual compound or have open connected access to it. These homes must've been where Rulon's sons lived (or maybe some still do?) with their wives, because the homes and lots they are on are set up very similar to alot of the bigger homes in Hildale and Colorado city.

Anonymous said...

The excerpt about the little girl who held hands with a boy and was told to treat boys as 'poisonous reptiles' is from Elissa Wall's "Stolen Innocence". I read it recently and that and Carolyn Jessop's book "Escape" are what prompted me to do more research on the FLDS. Honestly though it's not a way of life I personally subscribe to, it seems that people were generally happy and had a decent amount of freedom before Warren Jeffs rose to power... talk about poisonous snakes.

JaketheSnake said...

Looking for Alta Academy year books if available.