Recovery Schools: A Second Chance for Teens
Addiction does not discriminate. It doesn’t care if you are 14 or 41. Black or white. Drinking every day or taking pills. Addiction effects those who are suffering from it in the same way, by stopping dreams and goals in their tracks, by tearing apart families, and turning loved ones into someone totally unrecognizable.
For some teens however, they are finding a new way to combat their addiction. They are doing it through school. Recovery high schools. Recovery high schools that are designed just for them, and more importantly, designed specifically for their sobriety. With the idea that their success stems from their continued recovery, the schools not only help the teens earn their diploma, but also maintain a sober way of living.
So, what is a recovery high school?
Recovery high schools are secondary schools designed specifically for students in recovery from substance use disorder or dependency. Although each school operates differently depending on available community resources and state standards, each recovery high school shares the same goal of helping their students obtain a diploma while maintaining sobriety.
The staff of recovery high schools most often includes administrative staff, teachers, substance abuse counselors, and mental health professionals that each play a critical role in supporting their students. Additionally, recovery schools provide support for families learning to how to live with, and provide support for, their teens entering into the recovery lifestyle.
One Seattle public school campus, has about roughly 20 students that attend classes in math, language arts, and physical education, and they complete other courses online. They also meet regularly with a counselor and attend daily support group meetings based on Alcoholics Anonymous programs.
And the recent research shows that this kind of schooling or ‘sober schools’ are working.
A 2017 study done by Vanderbilt University associate professor Andy Finch and other researchers showed that students in recovery schools were significantly more likely than those not in such schools to report being off drugs and alcohol six months. The average reported absences among the 134 recovery school students in the study was also lower than other students.
The history of recovery high schools
The first recovery schools made their appearance in the late 1970s and now about 40 exist nationwide, including in Minnesota, Texas and Massachusetts. And as the opioid addiction epidemic continues to rage on in the United States, more are expected to open.
Andy Finch, who is also the co-founder of the Association of Recovery Schools said about 85% of the recovery schools are public or have some source of public funding, while some are private campuses or part treatment centers. New sober schools are planned to open in New York, Delaware, and Oregon.
Nationally, illicit drug use among middle and high school students is at a record low. Still, nearly 1 in 5 10th graders reported using an illegal drug in the previous 30 days, according to a nationwide survey known as Monitoring the Future.
Students at recovery high schools though, say the temptation isn’t there. In regular schools the temptation to use is there every day. And in part, the success of recovery high schools is due to the fact that all of the students are among sober peers, as well as teachers and counselors who all support sobriety.
However, in regard to teachers, working at a sober school isn’t always easy. With a recovery high school comes the challenges of not only teaching students, but also dealing with the many highs and lows of early sobriety, as well as adolescence. Early sobriety is often a volatile time in any individual’s life, teen or not. Couple that with the usual rebellious teenager, and often times teachers are dealing with kids who when pushed will push back, are emotional, and are dealing with a new life sober.
But the positives far outweigh the negatives.
For those in recovery high school, they know they can’t achieve anything without first having their sobriety. And for those students in attendance, they know they wouldn’t be sober without their school. All in all, recovery high schools are a beacon of hope for those teens looking to find their way through life while also staying sober. With this second chance to continue moving forward academically as a sober person, there is nothing they can’t accomplish.