May 1st, 2012

The Providence Center helps bring first recovery school to R.I.

Teens recovering from substance abuse have benefited from New England’s recovery high schools, which bridge the time between their discharge from treatment and the rigors of reentering their former school environment. With a unanimous vote in March by its Board of Regents, Rhode Island has approved a 2-year pilot program for the Ocean State’s first recovery high school, which will be run by The Providence Center (TPC) and will open this September for 10-20 students.

TPC is a four-site non-profit organization that provides mental health and substance use services to more than 11,000 children, adolescents and adults across the state. TPC submitted an application to open the recovery school that it will operate in conjunction with its current TPC School, which opened in 1989. The TPC School now serves nearly 100 students ages 3-21 at its Hope Street location. The recovery school will operate according to criteria outlined in the state’s Recovery High Schools Act that was passed last year.

Ian A. Lang, TPC’s vice president for Advancement and External Relations, will oversee the new school. For Rhode Island psychologists familiar with recovery high schools elsewhere in the region, Lang said it will be comforting to know there is now a program in Rhode Island.

“There’s a real movement in New England to provide this level of support to kids,” Lang said. “In many ways, when we send a kid back into the school system it’s like saying to a recovering alcoholic, ‘Glad you’re feeling better. Now, go sit in a bar for eight hours but don’t drink.’ For many people, school is that place.”

Recovery high schools typically provide a safe haven for students who have finished substance abuse treatment can focus on their studies while being mindful of the factors that contributed to their substance abuse. They attend classes as they would in their traditional school.

According to a press release sent by TPC about the need for a R.I. recovery high school, the new recovery high school can’t open soon enough. According to TPC statistics, Rhode Island has the country’s highest rate of substance abuse in kids ages 12 and over, and more than 90 percent of students are offered drugs their first post-treatment day back at school. More than 50 percent return to their addiction within 90 days according to TPC.

“Hopefully, in two years we will prove the efficacy of this and really help people understand what can be accomplished,” Lang said. “Treatment is a first step. It’s critically important. But we also have to be committed to offering resources and support as they move through the necessary processes. The [recovery high school] model shows promise.”

In Rhode Island, a student’s per-pupil expenditure will follow them from their previous or “typical” high school to recovery high school. If the program is successful and lasts beyond the 2-year trial, graduates will receive their diploma from their own school district in spite of being taught at recovery high school. The recovery high school’s content areas will comprise English, math, physical education/health, various sciences, and social studies. Existing TPC teachers who are dually certified in special education and regular education will teach classes.

By Jennifer E Chase

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