A celebration of American freedom has helped teach a group of troubled teenagers to have hope about their future.

About 150 student residents of the Heritage School celebrated Freedom Week recently, and Dionne Rutter, education director at the school, said it was "a very significant experience."Heritage administrators had been looking for a way to give their students a reason to believe that although they've had to deal with adversity, they can make their lives successful.

Officials decided honoring freedom in America would show the youths there are opportunities if they choose to take advantage of them.

"Some kids think that in a residential facility their lives are stopping. That can be a difficult thing," Rutter said. "We definitely think they learned something during the week. Our students need to be aware of their opportunities. By the end of the week, there was a lot of respect in their behavior."

The school marked the occasion by inviting a number of guest speakers to campus, including about 18 veterans of American wars. The Utah Army National Guard conducted a flag-raising ceremony and Lt. Gov. Val Oveson spoke to the students.

Among the group of veterans were a few prisoners of war, who told the students why they believed in freedom. Rutter said the students were impressed and asked some insightful questions.

"We had a remarkable group of people here, and one of the things that I was really impressed with was that the guests we invited said they wished every school would do something like this," Rutter said. "It's important to build in the students the idea that they have a lot of opportunities and they have to take advantage of them."

Students who live at the Heritage School come from across the country. Most are placed there by their families after experiencing behavior problems.

One of the goals of the school is to teach students to be successful in education or the workplace without the structure of programs like the one at Heritage.

Rutter said giving the students a sense of possibility by teaching them that a free country offers limitless opportunity may give some students the motivation they need to return to a normal family life.