At their hometown high schools, they were dropouts, bad kids, problems. At home, they lied to their parents, stole from their siblings or sneaked out to get high. Sometimes, they tried drug treatment, but surrounded by their old crowd, they quickly relapsed.
These are the students of recovery high schools: addicts who hit bottom excruciatingly early, and sometimes before they were old enough to earn a driver’s license.
“My life was just kind of a mess: I didn’t have a job, I wasn’t in school, all my friends were going off to college,” says Megan, 20, a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict who graduated two years ago from Boston’s William J. Ostiguy High School and now attends college. “It was just kind of like I was watching from the sidelines—no education, going nowhere, sick all the time, hanging around people that I don’t want to be hanging around with.”
At their old high schools, students said, they had reputations that were nearly impossible to shake, even after drug treatment. “A lot of people just think I’m still a junkie,” says Pat, 18, a recovering drinker and drug user who graduates this spring from The Raymond J. Lesniak Experience, Strength and Hope Recovery High School in New Jersey. “I hung out with that group of kids who were using all the time, and I was always under the influence in school.”
At recovery high schools, by contrast, the students found drug-free safe havens where they could continue their education among peers who were also trying to stay sober.
“At the time, it was nearly impossible for me to hang around my old friends and not participate,” says Thomas, 23, a recovering alcoholic who graduated in 2013 from Minneapolis’ P.E.A.S.E. (for “Peers Enjoying A Sober Education”) Academy and is now a college graduate working in wealth management. “P.E.A.S.E. connected me with people who understood the struggle.”