Cape Advocates Ponder Need For A 'Recovery High School'

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Education , Addiction

The recovery high school in Houston, Texas, is featured in the Greg Williams documentary “Generation Found,” which is being screened in Hyannis on Monday. COURTESY PHOTO

SOUTH CHATHAM For adolescents and teens who are addicted to alcohol or other drugs, functioning in a regular high school can be an insurmountable challenge. Though most people aren't aware of them, Massachusetts has five “recovery high schools” that help meet the special needs of youngsters struggling to break addiction.

Local advocates are now asking whether it's time for the Cape to have its own recovery high school.

Funded largely by the state, the recovery high schools in Massachusetts are small, often with fewer than 50 students, and operate under the auspices of the Department of Public Health in collaboration with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“They're accredited through the same accreditation process” as other schools, said Stephanie Briody of South Chatham, one of a group of people working to open a public dialogue about the idea. Students typically take part in weekly group discussions where they share strategies for staying sober, and are often required to take part in regular 12-step program meetings. Students' schedules are kept flexible to accommodate any off-campus counseling sessions, and students agree to periodic random drug tests.

Kept small to allow lots of personal interaction with staff and counselors, the schools are otherwise regular high schools. Graduates receive a diploma from their referring district.

“It's a piece of the care continuum,” Briody said. Recovery high schools usually involve partnerships of teachers, clergy members, parents, and experts in substance abuse treatment and recovery. A number of those stakeholders on Cape Cod have already expressed an interest in exploring the idea of a recovery high school on the Cape.

To advance the dialogue, Briody and others are sponsoring a screening of “Generation Found,” a documentary produced by Greg Williams that tells the story of Houston's recovery high school. The film will be screened at the Cape Cod Mall Cinema 12 in Hyannis on Monday, Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m., and there will be a 20-minute question-and-answer session following the film. Tickets are $11 and must be purchased online here.

“The movie is hopefully going to start the conversation,” Briody said. Different models are used for recovery high schools around the nation, with some places using the private or charter school model and others using regional educational collaboratives to oversee the school. Massachusetts has a distinct advantage in that recovery high schools receive state funding and are thus fully public high schools that are free for students to attend. But should it be decided that the Cape needs a recovery high school, it could take its own form.

“The intention is not to force any particular model on the Cape,” Briody said.

There are few public resources available for young teens who are addicted. The Duffy Health Center in Hyannis, which provides free medical care, mental health assistance and substance abuse treatment to those 18 and over, recently received a grant to extend substance abuse care to people as young as 16, Briody said. For younger teens, options are few.

“We really have no treatment for adolescents on the Cape,” she said. A recovery high school could provide an additional resource, strengthening the safety net for this population, Briody said.