Teens who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse face many temptations after complete treatment. A new private high school opening soon in suburban St. Louis will offer them an educational environment free of some of those potential triggers.
Great Circle, a behavioral health provider that operates private schools in Missouri for children with learning or developmental challenges, plans to enroll up to 20 students at a so-called “recovery school” on its campus in Webster Groves.
The school will enroll students who have recently completed an addiction treatment program and are sober. That’s a critical time for the teens, said Eric Winkles, Great Circle’s vice president for education.
“They go back to their same high school with their same groups of friends, their same access to drugs and alcohol, their same culture,” Winkles said. “So we’re hoping to provide a different culture and drug and alcohol-free environment.”
The recovery school, called Great Circle Academy, will provide counseling and therapy sessions along with accredited high school courses, Winkles said. There will also be after school activities, and likely a prom in the spring.
“So we feel like the school component as well as the after school activities and social activities will help students maintain that recovery,” Winkles said.
Winkles expects to enroll students at various points in high school completion due to long absences. Students must be drug-free when they enroll. They’ll take drug and alcohol tests during the school year. If students test positive they will be allowed back after further treatment, according to Winkles.
The tuition costs about $20,000; financial aid will be available. Great Circle plans to begin classes later in September with seven to 10 students.
There are few recovery schools in the United States, but they are growing in popularity as opioid use increases. The Association of Recovery Schools has 40 members, mostly clustered in California, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Texas.
Someone who leaves treatment and returns to an environment that’s unchanged faces an uphill battle, said Mike Lamping, a program manager for the community behavioral health center Places for People.
“School is one component, that’s one of the contextual factors that may present challenges to kids who are on the path to recovery,” said Lamping, who handles youth and family services.
The school will work best for people at a certain point in their recovery but not all teens fighting addiction will thrive in its group setting, he said.
Dan Ludwig will teach math at the new school. He said the small number of students will allow him to connect with each.
“You’ve really got a chance to understand the kid,” Ludwig said. “You really have a chance for individual attention, either academic or emotional, that you just don’t have in a large public school.”
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