Netflix documentary “The Program” dives into abuse and culture of Academy at Ivy Ridge in Ogdensburg

Posted 3/8/24

OGDENSBURG -- A documentary that details the abuses and atrocities carried out at the Academy at Ivy Ridge between 2001 and 2009 is now the number one series on Netflix.

"The Program: Cons, …

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Netflix documentary “The Program” dives into abuse and culture of Academy at Ivy Ridge in Ogdensburg


OGDENSBURG -- A documentary that details the abuses and atrocities carried out at the Academy at Ivy Ridge between 2001 and 2009 is now the number one series on Netflix.

"The Program: Cons, Cults and Kidnappings," which details years of abuse at the academy, was directed by Katherine Kubler, who was a "student" at the academy for 15 months.

Kubler details the abuses she herself experienced, along with those of a number of other individuals who were held at the academy against their will.

By her own account, Kubler said she was a good student, star soccer player and all-around good kid who grew up in a conservative Christian family.

Despite losing her mother to breast cancer before the age of two, Kubler said she was generally a happy child who "liked to film everything" and was viewed as a charismatic teen.

Behavior Modification

Later in episode one, Kubler spoke to what led to her being taken to Ivy Ridge, saying she was previously enrolled at a Catholic school on Long Island.

After a few months, Kubler was expelled for drinking Mike's Hard Lemonade. The school's zero tolerance policy, coupled with her father and step mother's beliefs, led to Kubler being whisked away in handcuffs by individuals hired by her father.

Kubler said she was then taken away to Ivy Ridge, where she was greeted by staff in the lobby at 3 a.m.

It was at that point that she learned she was not at any sort of school as staff members told her she was no longer allowed to go outside again.

"That's most people's first experience at Ivy Ridge. You hear these doors click locked behind you and you can never leave," Kubler said.

Immediately afterward, Kubler said she was paraded down a hallway with children sleeping on mattresses on the floor, their arms outstretched above them. Upon intake, children were essentially put on suicide watch and were not allowed to sleep in a room or with their arms under the covers, she said.

Kubler was then taken into a bathroom and strip searched, saying she had to jump up and down and cough to make sure she wasn't attempting to smuggle anything into the facility.

"It was at that point I was thinking, 'where the fuck am I?'," she said.

The next day, Kubler said she was assigned a "Hope buddy," a fellow "student" who would explain all of the rules for the first three days. Despite the time, Kubler said it was impossible to learn the vast number of rules. The list included things like no talking, no looking out of windows, no eye contact with anyone, no touching, having to pivot when walking around any corner, no makeup, no shaving, no winking and no smiling.

"We had to be emotionless," she said.

Those held at the facility were given no privacy, Kubler said.  

In the case of Alexa Brand, a friend of Kubler's from high school, her strip search was conducted by a man who forced her to also jump up and down and cough during the process to ensure she was not attempting to smuggle anything. The humiliating scene was one that was carried out hundreds of times as "students" came and went, she said.

Leveling up...or down

Kubler and Brand detailed how "students" were able to gain new privileges, saying if they followed the strict rules set forth they could level up. All students started at level one, which took months to escape, they said.

At level two, they would be able to have a candy bar twice per week. Any broken rules, however, would lead to a loss of points and potentially force them back down, they said.

Some mistakes would essentially add multiple days to their sentence, both said.

Level three opened the door to greater privileges, including one 15-minute phone call to parents to each.

But there was a catch. The phone calls would be monitored by the academy staff. If a "student" were to say anything disparaging about the academy or ask to come home, the call would be disconnected and phone privileges would be lost, Kubler said.

With level four, a plethora of privileges were instated, including the ability to talk, to go outside on occasion, to shave and for girls to wear their hair down as opposed to a braid.

Once students reached level six they would "graduate," however that was near impossible.

"They want to keep you here forever," Kubler said.

The same could be said of the boy's side of the school, which was completely separate from the girls.

One former "student" named Dominick detailed his strategy for surviving, saying it was treated as a game.

"An insane video game that isn't fun," Kubler said.

Dominick said he would try to average 15 points per day in order to have a countdown to the day he could leave.

Marketing misdirection

By all accounts Ivy Ridge appeared to be an idyllic setting that offered co-educational opportunities to boys and girls while offering corrective action for troubled teens.

Marketing materials were created to show a different picture compared to what was truly happening, Kubler said.

Photos of the actual day-to-day for students rarely existed, she said.

According to Kubler, the public relations material made it appear like a quality private boarding school.

In order to enhance that visage, Kubler said "students" would have one fun day per year where they could play games outside and would be given better quality food than they normally would receive.

That perception was what staff wanted the outside world to believe, she said.

Those photos and videos are in sharp contrast to the ones that could be seen in clips from episodes of Dr. Phil. In episode one, viewers get a real life view of "students" being abducted in the middle of the night by burley men with handcuffs as their parents just watched.

Attorney Phil Elberg, who was interviewed for the series, said the perception created by officials at Ivy Ridge made it appear to be an academic forward school.

"It was sold as tough love," he noted.

"It wasn't a school, it was a fucking prison"

One segment of episode one also shows Kubler, Brand and other survivors eating lunch at Phillip's Diner in Ogdensburg where they run into Florence "Siss" Dedekker.

"Miss Siss," as she was called, was a shift supervisor at Ivy Ridge who started as a dorm parent.

According to Kubler, Dedekker was a strict disciplinarian who "really seemed to enjoy strip searches" and coming down hard on any infractions.

While Kubler and Dedekker had breakfast together the following day, Dedekker admitted that the survivors were treated poorly and noted that they "didn't have the privacy" they should have had.

"My job was to keep you on structure," she said.

Dedekker said students needed to ask permission "for pretty much everything."

Throughout the course of the conversation, Dedekker mentioned George Tulip, the director of the boys school at Ivy Ridge. According to Dedekker, Tulip's wife was a waitress working at Phillip's Diner that day.

Speaking to the abuse students received, Dedekker told Kubler that she "didn't use the restraint techniques they were taught," but instead opted to use a pressure point on the student's necks while pulling an arm behind the student. She said if students continued to resist that is when she "would take them to ground."

Dedekker admitted that after some time working at Ivy Ridge she realized it wasn't what she thought.

"So, after the first year, I said 'this ain't a boarding school, this is a fucking prison'," she said.

Shortly after making that statement, Kubler and her production crew were asked to leave after one of the waitresses "didn't want them talking about Ivy Ridge."

"I wonder why that would be," Kubler commented.

George Tulip's files

Kubler, Brand and the other survivors eventually found Tulip's office, in which over 200 documents were found that detailed restraints utilized by Tulip over the course of a few months.

"I, George Tulip, took him to the floor," Kubler read out loud.

"He signed and dated his own confession," she continued.

Stacks of DVDs were also found "that were complications of the most abusive moments," according to Kubler.

One such video shows Tulip tackling and restraining one student on camera to forcibly shave the student's head.

Others show students being restrained forcibly, handcuffed, choked, slammed on the ground and other various forms of physical and psychological violence.

Kubler said she wanted to come back and find proof of what actually happened.

"They're signed confessions of their crimes and abuse," she said.

Over the course of her 10 years investigating, Kubler and her team found thousands of files that included personal records, academic records, restraint files and other documents she said prove that a train of abuses was carried out at the academy. In multiple episodes of the series, Kubler and the other survivors dig through filing cabinets and piles of files left behind, many of which detail specific incidents. DVDs left behind also show closed circuit camera footage that show “students” being choked, beaten, kicked and forcefully restrained by multiple staff members. In one such video, a student is forced to lie face down with their chin on their floor as their hands are handcuffed behind their back. Multiple survivors interviewed said such practices were a common occurrence and would last for hours on end. 

One survivor named Diana also spoke of the abuses she suffered for being unwilling to comply with the demands of staff members. 

On some occasions, Diana said she was forced to carry a “crap box” that was a box filled with reams of paper for two weeks. Whether walking the halls, attending “class” or in gym class, Diana was forced to carry the box at all times, she said. 

An email was also disseminated to staff that detailed her punishment and warned staff members that if they saw bruises on her arms, it was due to the box punishment. That email was shown in episode one of the series. 

“They would make special challenges, like they made a contest to see who could break me first,” she told Kubler. 

Leaked emails detail behavioral issues of some staff

In a leaked email from Steve Lashomb, who was then the Director of Human Resources at Ivy Ridge, Tulip was alleged to have harassed numerous other employees as well.

According to the email, Tulip allegedly "made a comment to her about not being pregnant, that it might just be all the food she eats." Lashomb noted in the email that it was not an exact quote.

"She has told her husband about the incident and that he is very upset, so much so that he has even mentioned the word ‘lawyer’ and/or taking care of this problem himself if she doesn't bring it to our attention," Lashomb wrote.

Lashomb went on further, saying one of the victims was concerned about the work environment becoming "more stressful" if Tulip were disciplined.

"People fear his reaction -- I've heard this several times before," Lashomb continued.

Co-workers feared the "discomfort" that would follow when Tulip found out who turned him in.

"I have even felt this way at times," he wrote.

Lashomb wrote that people also feared "the potential retaliation" due to Tulip's attitude following suspension, saying that such harassing behavior creates a hostile work environment.

"This is the exact fear that George creates in others," Lashomb wrote.

"George's mouth has the potential to get the school in a lot of trouble," he continued.

Lashomb continued to detail concerns that would persist if Tulip were not reprimanded while also listing 10 other complainants who said they were generally or sexually harassed by Tulip.

"Just thought I should share the situation and my thoughts with you. If there is anything I can do to help just let me know," Lashomb signed off.