‘I was slammed to the ground’: Former Academy at Ivy Ridge student speaks out

OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWTI) — As the investigation into the shuttered Academy at Ivy Ridge continues, former students have spoken out.

Ivy Ridge was recently featured in the true crime documentary series “The Program: Cons, Cults and Kidnapping.” The show alleged that students were abused while the school operated from 2001 to 2009.

Steven Caccamo was a student at Ivy Ridge for 21 months. Although he entered the school when he was 16 years old, it wasn’t until nearly 20 years later, when “The Program” debuted on Netflix that he began to share his story.

“That place brainwashed us,” Caccamo shared in an interview. “The whole purpose of that place was to break you to rebuild you to their image. Their goal was to make you have no hope.”

Located outside the city of Ogdensburg in St. Lawrence County, the Academy at Ivy Ridge was marketed as a behavior modification program for troubled teens.

Caccamo explained that he had common teenage behaviors in high school before he was sent to Ivy Ridge, but “wasn’t a bad kid.” He was diagnosed with ADHD many years earlier.

He said the program often lied about the teens.

“They drug-tested everybody. And they said [I] tested hot for opioids, marijuana, cocaine and benzos,” he said. “I never touched a drug in my life, outside of [the] medication, I was prescribed.”

As described in “The Program: Cons, Cults and Kidnapping,” Ivy Ridge had many strict rules. If students disobeyed, they were required to complete hours of worksheets and writing.

For Caccamo, he said his consequences oftentimes turned into physical abuse. He recounted an instance where he was being told to sit up straight on the floor for hours on end.

When he asked for a break due to physical exhaustion, he said he was punished.

“I asked a few times. Eventually, I got into a squat. Next thing I knew, I had a knee going into my arm, which knocked me onto my side,” Caccamo explained. “And then [the staff member] proceeded to get on top of me with a knee directly on my back. And I think there were two of them.”

Many of these “restraints” were documented in intervention reports. Caccamo received his file from AIR last year and recently has read through many of these documents.

One of them read:

“Steve also received a worksheet removal for basically being annoying.”

Academy at Ivy Ridge Intervention Form

“I was slammed to the ground because I annoyed the staff,” Caccamo said in the interview.

It’s taken Caccamo many years to process the events that took place at the Academy of Ivy Ridge.

However, he expressed that he hopes he can spread awareness to put an end to similar institutions.

“I want to be heard. I’ve never talked in 20 years. I never talked,” Caccamo shared. “I had no voice in that program and [students in similar programs] have no voice right now. We can be that voice. We can be the change. We can be the helping hand that saves these kids.”

An official investigation into the Academy at Ivy Ridge began on March 11, 2024.

Watch Steven’s full interview in the player above.

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