Box 113, Williamsport, PA 17701 Phone: 570-323-2050    Fax: 570-323-2051

New Recovery School Off and Walking

Jerry Bohren, NAPSA Trustee

We have a new Charter School in the District. After much unsolicited but necessary publicity, the new “Project Change: Recovery Charter School” is off and running; well, walking really. Three students are currently in the program and three more are in the pipeline. So, what is a recovery school and why was it started?

Nationally, there are 15 such schools in existence today. Five more will be opened in the next two years. They are located in 9 states plus Washington, DC. Minnesota will host the most schools that focus on student recovery with 11 schools. Some of these schools began in the late eighties to fill a need in the continuum of care for adolescents returning from intensive inpatient drug and alcohol treatment. These schools are “safe havens” from the peer pressure that young people face daily in our nation’s high schools. Until the students are strong enough to return to a regular high school campus, these schools offer a different level of support than is possible elsewhere. There are also three colleges/universities in the nation that boast a “recovery track” for recovering students that have had treatment and move on to college. So, why in Waukesha, Wisconsin?

The charter school movement in Wisconsin gives the opportunity for experimentation and creativity. It gives freedom from some regulations, allocates start-up money, and allows school districts to be innovative. Informal discussions with staff members in Waukesha and interactions with Drug Intervention Program consultants stimulated the idea a few years ago for “Project Change: Recovery Charter School”. The original idea was refined and honed from visits to other recovery schools. So, where are we today?

Renting classroom space from a local church, we began with one teacher and will soon add additional staff members. We are hoping to add a half-time relapse prevention educator/health professional from resources within the community. With that staffing, the school will be able to serve 15-20 students this year. Entrance criteria for the students includes having been in inpatient treatment, 30 days of sobriety, involvement in aftercare, and having a sponsor/mentor. Students have three learning options: earning credit, working on a GED/HSED, or earning a competency diploma. Students also will be required to work 20 hours per week (averaged) and to complete community service hours.

The school board unanimously approved the charter in August for the statutory allowable 5-year period. About $80,000 was made available to start the program, acquire technology, negotiate contracted services, buy software, and acquire curriculum and supplies.

There has been tremendous support from the community and a very positive press inquiry into the initiation of this program. The identified students currently enrolled in schools across the country have cost insurance companies, counties and parents over a half million dollars for treatment, so programs like this seem to meet a need in the continuum of care for adolescents. Recovering business people, clergy, social workers, parents of recovering students, legislators, school board members, and other school staff have helped make this program a reality. But much work is yet to be done. We are off and walking, for now. Our focus remains on the long-term health, learning, and ultimate contributions of these young people to the society in which they live.