Katherine Kubler: Where is the Ivy Ridge Survivor Now?

As a documentary series living up to its title in every way conceivable, Netflix’s ‘The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping’ can solely be described as utterly bewildering, haunting, and shocking. That’s because it delves deep into every aspect of how troubled teens’ disciplinary schools have only ever done more harm than good with their institutionalized and normalized abusive tactics. So now, if you simply wish to learn more about Katherine Daniel Kubler — the woman behind this original as a dismayed survivor of one such institution — we’ve got the necessary details for you.

Who is Katherine Kubler?

It was back when Katherine was merely two in 1990 that her world turned upside down owing to her mother sadly dying of breast cancer, leaving behind her, her elder sisters, and her father, Ken. She thus of course doesn’t have many memories of her, yet she is glad the latter filmed almost everything because he wanted to make sure their kids had at least something to remember her by. Little did he know this would inadvertently ignite a passion for filming in his youngest, too, a fact his second wife Jane didn’t really appreciate after they tied the knot around the mid-1990s.

“I grew up in a conservative Christian family,” Katherine candidly stated in the aforementioned production. “I was heavily involved in my church youth group. I was on the student council, a star soccer player, I filmed everything… It’s interesting to look back at my home videos and try to pinpoint where things went wrong,” especially since she doesn’t know herself. The only thing she does know is that it all began once Jane came into her life as “an evil stepmother” while she was seven — “it’s kind of a Cinderella story… things got really bad at home and I started acting out.”

In Katherine’s own words, she was experimenting with typical teen stuff like drinking, smoking, plus sneaking out at night by the time she was a sophomore, yet its root had taken place years prior. One incident she vividly remembers was from fourth grade when Jane yelled at her, “Thank god [your mother] isn’t alive to see the person you’ve become,” driving her to rebel gradually. She hence soon found solace in friends and/or substances, following which her parents transferred her to a private Christian boarding school in Long Island, New York, in the hopes she’d improve.

However, Katherine was there for just a few months before she was essentially forced to withdraw for having Mike’s Hard Lemonade in violation of this establishment’s zero-tolerance policy. “I was sitting in the principal’s office,” she expressed in the show, detailing the ensuing events. “My dad told me he was on his way to come get me. He was going to be driving up [from our home] in DC. But then two people walked in, and they had handcuffs. They said, ‘We’re here to take you to your new school.’ My parents had hired two strangers to forcibly escort me to Academy at Ivy Ridge.”

Katherine continued, “I got here at 3 in the morning. It was pitch black out. The transport car just pulled up [to the reception area], and they sent some staff out to greet me. I walk in, I set my bags down, and then I turn around to go back outside to get the rest of my stuff, but they pulled me back. They’re like, ‘No, you can’t go out anymore… We’ll get it for you.’ This was the first time I started realizing, ‘This isn’t a normal school…’ Then, two staff members flanked me on either side, linked arms with me, and walked me off to the dorms, [stating] I was not allowed to talk anymore at all… The hallway was just lined with [kids sleeping on] mattresses… They brought me into the bathroom, had me take off all my clothes, and jump up and down and cough.”

This particular institution claimed to be a school of the future specializing in troubled teens, yet it was nothing but a prison for those whose parents thought them at risk, difficult, or too vulnerable. After all, students were referred to as “units” by management, plus there was a unique set of rules they had to follow to a tee so as to reach “level six” and graduate, albeit their diploma wasn’t valid anywhere. These rules included no talking without permission ever, no looking out of windows/doors, not making eye contact with anyone from the opposite gender, no touching fellow students, pivoting every corner while maintaining a military-like structure, and sleeping with their arms out near the head as if on suicide watch, as well as hundreds more.

As for students’ communication with family, Katherine conceded even this was limited to a letter per week plus one call a month, both of which were monitored to ensure nothing negative was being said. If someone did express their desire to leave or the misery they felt, staff simply convinced loved ones their child was being manipulative while cutting out level points to further extend their stay. Coming to the education aspect, it was non-existent since the school had no certified teachers — they simply had computers and their level format, allowing some specific privileges like meeting parents to those in levels 4-6. Otherwise, “units” had one fun day a year as well as a seminar per month, during which they were essentially brainwashed via exhaustion.

Thankfully, following Katherine’s brave voicing of the fact she needed to escape this academy in not just letters but also an in-person visit, her father pulled her out after 15 months in mid-2005. “It was all just a blur,” she admitted. “I can’t remember really too much, except I think they kind of get you out in a hurry. They don’t want people to see. You can’t say goodbye to anyone… Been in a building for 15 months, and the next thing I know, we’re speeding down the highway. I just felt physically ill because it was sensory overload… It was this weird mix of emotion, ’cause you’re overwhelmed, but you’re also like, ‘Oh my god, I’m out. I’m free. I’m out. What does this mean? What am I doing?’ That just started my lifelong anxiety disorder.”

Katherine Kubler is Now a Director, Producer, and Entrepreneur

While it’s true Katherine does struggle with anxiety plus complex post-traumatic stress disorder even today, she seems to be doing quite well for herself both personally and professionally these days. That’s especially true since her family subsequently allowed her to be herself, whether it be through her father administering her home school graduation, his plus her sisters’ support in her decision to pursue further education in Cinema & Media Arts, and their understanding in her ensuing quest to understand the past. She did cut off Ken for a few years to do the latter (except via emails) as she wanted him to endure her pain, yet they ultimately managed to talk while she conceded he was actually a good parent — he’d just been conned by the school too.

It thus comes as no surprise Katherine now has quite a tight-knit bond with her father and her sisters despite currently residing in Los Angeles, California, alongside her loving husband, Kyle Kubler. Though what many don’t know is that the latter is her business partner too — this marketing intern turned William Morris Endeavor editor turned Paramount Pictures film & TV properties specialist had co-founded the Tiny Dino creative agency with him in 2016. However, as of writing, this filmmaker of ‘The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping’ not only holds the titles of founder, CEO, plus executive creative director at her firm but also of executive producer at Omnivision Pictures.

“Like most creatives, I [have always had] an itch to be around other artists,” Katherine once said. “I met with creative agencies and thought, ‘Oh, that’s where the fun stuff happens!’ I saw an opportunity to start my own agency with the connections I had already developed in the industry. Being creative in a business setting helped me understand the needs and challenges on both sides, and act as a liaison to both… My goal with Tiny Dino is to serve a collective of artists and match them with the right projects for their skillset… I wanted to create an environment conducive to creative work, where artists feel empowered and supported.” And she has actually done so, just like she accomplished her objective of raising serious awareness about the troubled teens industry with ‘The Program,’ a project she worked on for over a decade.

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