The Seattle public school campus, known as a recovery school, is designed for students learning to lead lives of sobriety while they earn their diplomas. The roughly 20 students attend classes in math, language arts and physical education, and they complete other courses online. They meet regularly with a counselor and attend daily support group meetings based on Alcoholics Anonymous programs.
Recent research shows that recovery schools — also known as sober schools — help keep their students off drugs and in class. A study 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 after they were first surveyed.
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And the average reported absences among the recovery school students in the study was lower than the other students. Recovery schools first appeared in the late s and now about 40 exist nationwide, including in Minnesota, Texas and Massachusetts. More are likely to open as opioid overdoses continue to climb, said Finch, who is co-founder of the Association of Recovery Schools. Starting any school can be complicated, but recovery schools have extra layers of complexity.
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They have to recruit their students, impose policies specific to them and fund the services they need. Nationally, illicit drug use among middle and high school students is at record lows.
Still, nearly 1 in 5 10th-graders reported using an illegal drug in the previous 30 days, according to the annual nationwide Monitoring the Future survey. Like Martinez, many of the Interagency at Queen Anne students go there straight from treatment programs.
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They say they encounter less temptation than at traditional high schools. The success of recovery high schools is partly due to the fact that the students are among sober peers, as well as teachers and counselors who all support their sobriety. Sometimes classwork must be set aside, Coletta said. On a recent school day, one of the newer students was so upset that she spent most of the day crying, clutching a blanket. Coletta hugged her and they took a long walk. Interagency at Queen Anne, which opened in late , is part of a network of alternative public school campuses called Interagency Academy, which also serves homeless and incarcerated youths.
At first, the campus drew opposition from a group of elementary school parents who feared the students would sell drugs in the neighborhood. But Melinda Leonard, the former vice principal who helped found the school, said those fears have now given way to community support.
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