Weight-Loss School Transforms Teens' Lives

  • Located in the mountains of North Carolina, Wellspring Academy is a boarding school for overweight teenagers. In addition to their regular classes, students learn to control their weight through a healthful diet, physical activity and counseling.
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    Located in the mountains of North Carolina, Wellspring Academy is a boarding school for overweight teenagers. In addition to their regular classes, students learn to control their weight through a healthful diet, physical activity and counseling.
    Travis Dove for NPR
  • These photos document five students when they first arrived at Wellspring in August — and again two months later. Here, Bethany Gomez poses by the lake on campus.
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    These photos document five students when they first arrived at Wellspring in August — and again two months later. Here, Bethany Gomez poses by the lake on campus.
    Travis Dove for NPR
  • At first Bethany lost a lot of weight, but hitting a plateau disappointed her. "There's gonna be some weeks when it's just half a pound," she says in October, "and some weeks when I'm just going to maintain. So I have to be happy with what I get, I guess."
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    At first Bethany lost a lot of weight, but hitting a plateau disappointed her. "There's gonna be some weeks when it's just half a pound," she says in October, "and some weeks when I'm just going to maintain. So I have to be happy with what I get, I guess."
    Travis Dove for NPR
  • Justin Moore, 15, of Tampa Bay, Fla., in August.
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    Justin Moore, 15, of Tampa Bay, Fla., in August.
    Travis Dove for NPR
  • In two months, Justin has lost nearly 100 pounds. "A lot of it is a self-motivation thing here. Like, they don't force you to lose weight here; they give you the option to."
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    In two months, Justin has lost nearly 100 pounds. "A lot of it is a self-motivation thing here. Like, they don't force you to lose weight here; they give you the option to."
    Travis Dove for NPR
  • Haley Humphrey, 15, from Athens, Ala., at Wellspring in August.
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    Haley Humphrey, 15, from Athens, Ala., at Wellspring in August.
    Travis Dove for NPR
  • Two months later, Haley is not worried about the food fest that is the holiday season, she says. "I worked so hard to get [to this point] — I'm not going to ruin it. I can make my own versions of my favorite foods and still be on the program."
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    Two months later, Haley is not worried about the food fest that is the holiday season, she says. "I worked so hard to get [to this point] — I'm not going to ruin it. I can make my own versions of my favorite foods and still be on the program."
    Travis Dove for NPR
  • Savannah Davis, 16, of Lufkin, Texas, said her goal at Wellspring was to feel better about herself. "Just not having all this weight on me is going to make me feel better," she said when she started the program in August. She says she knew "it would be hard work, but I'm ready to do it."
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    Savannah Davis, 16, of Lufkin, Texas, said her goal at Wellspring was to feel better about herself. "Just not having all this weight on me is going to make me feel better," she said when she started the program in August. She says she knew "it would be hard work, but I'm ready to do it."
    Travis Dove for NPR
  • After two months, Savannah has adjusted to the Wellspring regimen and has lost weight.
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    After two months, Savannah has adjusted to the Wellspring regimen and has lost weight.
    Travis Dove for NPR
  • Sydney Appelbaum of Newton, Mass., poses by the lake at Wellspring in August.
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    Sydney Appelbaum of Newton, Mass., poses by the lake at Wellspring in August.
    Travis Dove for NPR
  • "Every day, I'm feeling a little more confident," Sydney says, two months later. "Things like having pants that are too big on me, or running a faster mile ... I'm doing a 5K coming up soon that I definitely wouldn't have been able to do before."
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    "Every day, I'm feeling a little more confident," Sydney says, two months later. "Things like having pants that are too big on me, or running a faster mile ... I'm doing a 5K coming up soon that I definitely wouldn't have been able to do before."
    Travis Dove for NPR

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Earlier this week NPR ran a two-part story about teen weight loss as part of our series "Living Large: Obesity in America." These images by photojournalist Travis Dove show teenagers at the Wellspring Academy in Brevard, N.C., as they work on their weight-loss goals.

His portraits show them at the start of their journey in August, and then a few months later after they have begun to lose weight.

The private boarding school located in the mountains of North Carolina is designed to help overweight and obese students lose weight while also teaching traditional academics. And these kids are overweight enough that their lives might be endangered if they don't slim down. Wellspring is the one place in the world that might be able to, finally, help them.

Justin Moore, 15, of Tampa Bay, Fla., is seen at Wellspring Academy in August. In two months at the school Justin lost more than 100 pounds. i i

Justin Moore, 15, of Tampa Bay, Fla., is seen at Wellspring Academy in August. In two months at the school Justin lost more than 100 pounds. Travis Dove for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Travis Dove for NPR
Justin Moore, 15, of Tampa Bay, Fla., is seen at Wellspring Academy in August. In two months at the school Justin lost more than 100 pounds.

Justin Moore, 15, of Tampa Bay, Fla., is seen at Wellspring Academy in August. In two months at the school Justin lost more than 100 pounds.

Travis Dove for NPR

To learn more about Wellspring, you can see photos from the first part of the story by NPR reporter Karen Grigsby Bates here and read more from the second story that chronicles the teens struggles and successes here.

Travis Dove is a freelance photojournalist based in North Carolina.

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