June 1st, 2010

Fourth recovery high school planned for Massachusetts

Hearing the concerns of his community, Brockton, Mass. superintendent Matthew Malone, Ph.D., is supporting a regional initiative to bring a high school for students with addiction to his corner of the Bay State.

Recovery high schools, sometimes called “sobriety high schools,” operate under the premise that students leaving a detox or similar program who return to the same environment from which they came have a harder time staying clean. But, surround them in a drug-free environment staffed by teachers and psychology professionals and you strengthen their chance for success.

Three such programs are in Massachusetts – Northshore Recovery High School in Beverly, Springfield Recovery High School, and William J. Ostiguy High School in Boston – but none is along the state’s southern shoreline where Malone says one is badly needed.

“This was not something I focused on, but came out listening to the community,” says Malone, who has been superintendent since 2009. “We held a public hearing on substance abuse and addiction. The need … there is a big one. We’ve got a situation with a lot of young people making bad decisions.”

Nationwide numbers support the need. The U.S. Office of Applied Studies report issued April 29, 2010 titled “A Day in the Life of American Adolescents” presented 2008 data from a variety of data sets and surveys. The report stated that nearly one-third of U.S. adolescents ages 12-17 drank alcohol in the previous year and about one-fifth used an illicit drug. In 2008, 7.5 percent of people admitted to publicly funded treatment facilities were aged 12-17.

When the south shore’s school comes to fruition it will be a regional initiative and based on a 10-step model similar to Northshore Recovery led by Director Michele Lipinski, where Malone sent his students with drug addiction while superintendent of Swampscott Public Schools from 2005-2009.

Students will receive all of their academic instruction along with counseling support provided by licensed psychologists, drug counselors, social workers and psychiatrists. “You’ve got to be clean and committed to sobriety or you’re thrown out,” says Malone. “It’s pretty strict.” Students could attend at the behest of a parent, doctor or their school system. The student’s own school district would send to the recovery high school funds viewed as a “collaborative tuition” to cover the cost of the student’s enrollment. As an example, Malone notes that a Danvers student attending Northshore Recovery may cost the Danvers school district approximately $12,000. According to information published in a March Boston Globe article about the same subject, the rest of the $35,000 tab would be paid by the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health.

Brockton’s participating in a recovery high school aligns with the strategic goals the district outlined for itself last August.

“Wrap-around services are a big piece of what we’re trying to do toward reducing the drop out rate.” For example, looking for early warning signs in middle school students who may not make it through high school, teachers place them on a “Whistle List” to keep a watchful eye on them.

Malone has heard “a lot of negativity” about the proposed school. “A lot of folks think that kids in trouble should be left to the wolves. But that’s not something we believe in. I think the strength is in the design, to really both provide an academic education and mix psychological, social and emotional [help].”

Also a former headmaster of Monument School in South Boston, this year Malone lost three former students – “good kids,” he says – to drug addiction. He hopes to change the fate of students at his new post through this new initiative.

“The work we do in schools starts with safety,” he says. “We just held a big drug forum a month ago and people were saying that high schools aren’t responsible for taking care of kids with problems. But are we not in the lifesaving business? Bad stuff happens to good kids.”

By Jennifer E Chase

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