Gem Academy: Valley boarding school looking to help girls overcome obesity

Posted at 8:16 AM, Jun 23, 2017

A boarding school for obese teenage girls is opening its doors in the Valley. Gem Academy is a unique concept that can generate a lot of questions, so ABC15 Mornings Anchor Danielle Lerner sat down with the founder to see what it’s all about.

“The heaviest I’ve been was 407 pounds and it was pretty hard for me,” said Annya Magallanes. “Basically I was in my own little bubble, I didn’t really like being around people.”

Magallanes knows what it is like to battle and ultimately overcome obesity. Now 140 pounds, it’s been seven years since she attended a treatment program in California and started working with Gem Academy Founder Jim Hershey.

“It is an aesthetic and it is a health concern,” Hershey said. “We go at it from the health concern standpoint.”
Hershey can enroll up to 10 girls in Gem Academy and is now accepting applications. The teens will stay in a 7,500-square foot home in Scottsdale for at least six months, working with a team of professionals to achieve change from the inside out.

“If they see themselves as strong and healthy and empowered those behaviors will follow that,” said Hershey.

To qualify for the program girls must be in grades 9-12 and be clinically obese.  That means at least 30 pounds over the top of their healthy weight range.  Above all, Hershey says the girls and their families must be willing to do the work.

“It’s not easy and it’s not easy here,” said Hershey.  “Everything that makes it hard is the things they’ll go through. 

The difference is they’re in a supportive environment.”

Magallanes says that support changed her life.

“Loving myself,” she said.  “I never really loved myself back then and now I just feel full of life and really happy.”

The program is a big financial investment at $8,000 a month, so Hershey reiterates this is for families dealing with serious health concerns. You can find more information at