Recovery High Schools
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Are they a good idea for your child?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, most people use illicit drugs for the first time when they are teenagers, and in 2013, there were more than 2.8 million new users—54.1% of them under the age of 18. Marijuana and alcohol are the frequent drugs of choice, although other substances such as pain relievers (e.g., oxycodone) and inhalants (e.g., shoe polish, glue, and gasoline) might also be used regularly.
Solo Moms would hope that their teens would not experiment or use drugs at all, but unfortunately, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reports that 75% of all high school students (10 million) have used addictive substances, with one in five of these students meeting the medical criteria for addiction. Additionally, 46% of all high school students (6.1 million) currently use addictive substances, with one in three of them meeting the medical criteria for addiction.
If your teen is suffering from addiction, to simply put him in a rehabilitation center and expect him to fall back into a “normal” high school routine might be a challenge. Keeping him on track becomes a priority for you, while he is taking each day at a time. School might be fraught with temptations your teen might not be able to resist on his own. There are several recovery high schools created specifically for teens recovering from substance dependence or abuse.
Recovery high schools are environments that support a student’s sobriety while aiding her in achieving her secondary diploma. According to the Association of Recovery Schools, there are about 13 of these high schools in 10 states across the country. Beyond education, the model of care in these schools includes social workers as well as substance-abuse and mental-health counselors to create programs targeted to each teen’s needs.
Recovery schools are a solid option. (It has been noted that teens in recovery have more successes—maintaining sobriety, finishing school, and improved self-esteem in these new environments.) Research by Andrew Finch, associate professor of the practice in the Department of Human & Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University, finds that about 85% of teens who return to their original schools after rehabilitation use again within the year. The odds from long-term treatment improve in a recovery school setting because teens have more time with individualized care, as opposed to a singular treatment model; all the students are in the same situation, so the fear of alienation is decreased. Lastly, peer pressure becomes organized around a very specific goal: staying sober.
Given the rate of teen addiction and the steadying of alcohol and marijuana use (6% of 12th graders report daily use of marijuana, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse) and the rise of opioid addiction in the country, one would think that recovery high schools would be popping up in more American cities—unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Educational resources allocated for these schools are similar to those for public and charter schools. Factors such as enrollment numbers are key, as well as high standardized testing scores, which can be difficult to maintain with a population that might be homeless or in and out of rehabilitation centers. The recent 2016 recovery high school study suggests that the challenges in our national education system—the battle between the public and private sectors, effective curriculum creation, and community resources—must be balanced with building a strong school culture and relationships within communities in order for these schools to continue to thrive.
Below is a list of some recovery schools available around the country and a description of their approach to helping high school students recover from substance abuse.
1. P.E.A.S.E. Academy. Located in St. Paul, Minnesota, P.E.A.S.E. (Peers Enjoying a Sober Education) is one of the oldest public recovery high schools in the country. It has daily peer support meetings, weekly sobriety support groups, and an on-site, full-time chemical-dependency counselor who meets with students and families.
It also has an online component, which allows students to work at their own pace academically, away from peer pressure while focusing on their recovery. P.E.A.S.E. has a middle school that accepts students as well. A student’s schedule is determined by a school counselor and consists of six classes each semester.
2. William J. Ostiguy High School. Located in Boston, William J. Ostiguy High School is one of five recovery high schools in Massachusetts. The state’s government has responded by increasing school funding for programs tackling drug and alcohol addiction because there has been a rise in heroin addiction over the past few years. Ostiguy focuses on developing life skills as well as education within its 12-step model recovery program.
The school’s extracurricular activities include photography, an interactive drama group, and restorative yoga. It also has a summer job program for low-income youth that consists of learning financial literacy and summer management. To receive a stipend upon completion of the program, the student must complete a project, have good attendance, and stay sober. Listening to previous students talk about their experience is inspiring for those who might think they don’t have the capacity to heal.
3. ACTION Academy. This school focuses on small learning environments for students in grades seven through 12. Located in Newhall, California, near the city of San Fernando, the school has a curriculum that is centered on a low student-to-teacher ratio and family involvement. The school day runs from 8:00 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. and consists of two academic blocks, two food blocks (brunch and lunch), one extracurricular block, and a group session to close out the day.
There is an online component to the curriculum through which students are able to work at their own pace. Students can self-elect to transfer into a regular school environment or stay at the academy.
4. Interagency Academy. Students must self-elect to attend Interagency at Queen Anne, which is in Seattle. A teen’s willingness to make a change (as opposed to the change being court-mandated) is paramount to this school’s philosophy.
Small classroom environments and individualized instruction are at the forefront of Interagency’s curriculum model. The academy has comprehensive job skills training and volunteer opportunities for interested students as well as the Teen Parent Project, which focuses on supporting young moms and dads in developing the skills needed to raise a child.
Depending on the situation, it would not be unusual for you (or them) to consider moving to another state to support your child’s recovery. At a minimum, alternatives such as SMART Recovery and local addiction/recovery programs are available that can aid you in making a choice that makes sense for you and your child. Seek the aid of a substance-abuse counselor for guidance.
The road might seem long, Solo Mom, but your child has you—and that’s a great start.
Tanisha Christie is an interdisciplinary performing artist and filmmaker. After years of working at the nexus of arts, media, social justice, and healing, she is currently finishing her master of social work (clinical specialization) at Hunter College in New York City. A child of a Solo Mom, she loves to ride her bike to the beach.
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