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More Sober High Schools Appearing Nationwide But Do They Work?

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Author: Shernide Delva

The drug epidemic has affected people from all backgrounds and ages, and unfortunately, that includes students in high school. Now, a local woman in Colorado wants to ensure high school students struggling with addiction have a chance of getting their high school diploma. Her solution? She’s opening up a high school targeted for students struggling with addiction.

Leslie Patterson is a program director at Landmark Community School. She says she had the idea after watching the documentary “The Anonymous People” which was a movie set on exploring recovery high schools in Massachusetts. The documentary made her realize her community needed the same resource.

“We have a lot of youth that suffer from addiction. And it’s not even just addiction, it’s that they’re using drugs and alcohol to cover up whatever it is that they’re not wanting to feel and experience, so providing them alternative interventions so they don’t have to become full-blown addicts, or if they are into their own addiction, then giving them some tools to work with that,” She said.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for students under 18 years old to find resources for their addiction. Treatment centers targeted for teenagers are scarce, yet high school is usually the period when drug experimentation begins.  Even after receiving treatment, the students are not able to get the same support at school.

“Resources for addiction are horrid, horrendous…families are spending thousands of dollars getting help for their student, and then they go back into high school and then two weeks later they’re relapsing,” said Patterson.

Patterson decided that her community in Colorado deserved the same opportunity that the high school in Massachusetts provided.  The school will run under the umbrella of Community Prep School in District 11 east of downtown Colorado Springs.

“We’re going to start with upwards of 20 students in this first semester, and our first day will be January 30th,” said Martin Schneider, director of Community Prep School.

Over the next five years, they hope to grow to 100 students.  The school will operate as a conventional high school with students between the ages of 14-19 years old. Schools will get a high school diploma through Community Prep, and they will have to earn credits to get their diploma.  However, unlike typical high schools, students struggling with addiction will have the support they need to stay sober.  Schneider believes this will make a tremendous impact on the lives of students.

“When there are cracks in that support system or there’s no support system at all, the relapse rate is close to 90 percent, so kids going back to their old high schools, for instance, after going to treatment, have really, really struggled to maintain sobriety,” said Schneider.

For Leslie Patterson, it’s a mission close to her heart.

“I’m in long-term recovery myself and my addiction started in high school, so it’s a full circle for me to do this also,” Patterson added.

“If you can get a student sober at 15, the trajectory has changed for that child,”

Are These Schools Effective?

One in five high school students meet the criteria for addiction. The consensus for “sober high schools” is that they are effective in preventing further drug abuse.  Research examining these schools shows a significant reduction in substance use as well as mental health symptoms among the students. Each school is different, but for the most part, they provide group and individual counseling, consistent monitoring and individualized attention.

Hopefully, in the future, we will see more schools like these pop up throughout the country. The sooner addiction is treated, the better outcome for long-term recovery. How do you feel about these schools? Regardless of how old you are, it is never too late to seek help for your addiction. Call now.

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