Recovery High Schools Giving Teens a Second Chance

Recovery high schools are helping teen addicts maintain sobriety by focusing on recovery and their studies at the same time.

Recovery high schools are popping up across not only the U.S., but all over the world. Why? Because teens who attend addiction rehab typically have difficulties integrating back into their old high school without relapsing. High school is often a time of experimentation with drugs and alcohol, and saying ‘no’ repeatedly is often too hard of a test on their new found sobriety – which is why high schools based around recovery are becoming a more popular choice for newly sober teens.

What Are Recovery High Schools

The aim of The Association of Recovery Schools is to provide a safe and supportive environment in which teens suffering from addictions are able to obtain a high school education. Recovery high schools offer the necessary academic services required for a secondary school diploma, as well as assistance with recovery. Studies have shown that once a person has completed a programme at an addiction treatment centre, the following 60 days are when they are most likely to relapse. Placing a child back in their old school environment usually means that they are exposed to the same temptations, including their peers, that led to their substance abuse disorder in the first place.

Recovery high schools are specifically tailored to accommodate addicted teens. Their classes are kept small to ensure that every student receives to individual attention, and since the schools will not admit any student who does not wish to stop using, a sense of social bonding is present amongst the students. Classes are usually combined, and individualised self-paced learning of the curriculum enables children who have missed large portions of school the opportunity to catch up. School staff consists of qualified teachers and counsellors on hand to assist any student in the case of relapse.

Relapse is not treated as a reason for punishment or automatic expulsion, but rather as a sign that a student needs more help. An ‘open door’ honesty policy ensures that students never need to fear asking for help. The main goal is to teach students to sustain their abstinence by providing them with daily therapy sessions, recovery management and coping skills to prevent relapse. Many schools also provide therapy and advice to a student’s family members on how to handle teens and drugs.

How Do Recovery High Schools Operate?

Although each recovery high school’s structure may differ slightly from another depending on their available resources, they all operate around similar philosophies. The aim is to create and promote a drug-free lifestyle, and provide a safe environment for teens to obtain their high school diploma. Healthy boundaries are put up between regular high schools and recovery schools to ensure that recovering addicts are not exposed to the same social temptations as before. If the premise is being shared with another public high school (which is sometimes the case), physical boundaries or alternate time tables are put in place to ensure separation. Classes and therapy sessions are conducted daily by qualified teachers and counsellors.

Recovery schools are usually small, most only enrolling 30 to 40 students. This ensures that each child will have access to individual attention from a teacher or counsellor when needed. Classes usually have no more than 10 students, and different grades of students are often placed together. All curriculums are taught according to state standards, and many are able to cater for each student by individualising the curriculum. If a student has missed large portions of school because of substance abuse, an individualised curriculum can help them to catch up on material that they have missed. A sense of acceptance and unity is crucial to the success of these schools, and therefore bullying and physical violence are not tolerated.

Drug tests are administered frequently in most recovery schools, however, testing positive does not automatically result in expulsion. Instead, it is seen as a need for more support. Honesty is encouraged, and if a student is willing to discuss the reasons behind his relapse, counsellors will be willing to help. Recovery schools also understand that adolescence is hard, and therefore do not force any unrealistic expectations on students, such as no dating. Instead, they re-enforce the sense of community and family between all students, teachers and counsellors. Some schools have adopted the ‘harm reduction philosophy‘, letting students know that they are there for them, whenever they are ready to talk. Others opt for the traditional “12 Steps”. Most importantly, recovery high schools understand that no two people fit the same mould, and so each student’s journey through recovery will be different.

What Are The Benefits of Recovery High Schools?

Statistics show that recovery high schools have a much lesser relapse percentage than strictly using traditional treatment such as 30-day rehabs or intensive outpatient programmes and then heading back to ‘regular life’. While 70 percent of teens who go back to their old communities relapse within half a year, teens who attend recovery schools after rehab have a relapse rate of only 30 percent. Recovery schools only grant admission to students who are serious about recovery which ensures that every child feels accepted by their peers; this in turn helps to increase their confidence and motivation levels.

A safe and sober environment is needed in order for successful recovery, and many teen addicts admit that once being placed back in their previous environment, it is too tempting not to fall back into their old ways. Drugs and alcohol may be easily available at their last school, and peer pressure from their old user friends could lead to a crumbling of will power and therefore a relapse. And because recovery schools are usually small, it ensures that every student will have access to individual attention and necessary counselling, instead of being lost in the masses and left to their own devices in a public school. Recovery high schools also understand that each person is different, and therefore so is their journey of recovery. If a student relapses, they are surrounded by peers with whom they can relate, as well as teachers, therapists and counsellors who are all willing to help. The open-door policy encourages students to self-report any relapses. Honesty is rewarded with support, instead of punishment. A large portion of teen addicts have co-existing disorders, such as depression or anxiety, which recovery school staff are equipped to handle.

Most students have already gone through some form of treatment, and lessons at their recovery school encourage them to continuously persevere and stay sober. These schools also offer support for family members of the students, where families are taught how to deal with a recovering teenager, as well as how to deal with any trauma that goes along with it.

If your teen is suffering from addiction and has gone through rehab, a recovery school may be something worth looking into.

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