Addiction recovery high school could open this fall for Central Virginia students

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — High school students recovering from addiction could have a new way to stay on track with their studies.

Hope Academy is a regional recovery program that will welcome high school students from across the region. This is a partnership with Chesterfield County Public Schools and Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

Kelly Fried, executive director of Chesterfield County Mental Health Support Services, said Hope Academy will support high school students after they complete drug treatment and during their recovery journey.

The program will accommodate up to 25 students and will offer group counseling sessions during the school day.

“This school separates these students from mainstream students, so they can work on their recovery and continue their recovery and not be subject to these negative influences,” she said.

Fried said the funding needed to implement the program is two-pronged. Some of the money is earmarked for educational purposes and – because Hope Academy is a regional school – is subject to General Assembly budget approval. The other party will allocate $300,000 to the County Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to pay for five positions.

Fried said three full-time clinicians, a part-time recovery specialist and a part-time family support partner are tapped for the school so far.

She added that funding for this initiative was secured a few years ago by Chesterfield County Public Schools Superintendent Merv Daugherty. But some of that money had to be reallocated due to the pandemic.

The location of the school is yet to be determined, but Fried said one of the criteria for admission is the type of treatment students have received in the past.

“It’s to make sure they’re really serious about working on their addiction issues,” she said.

Students must be substance free for at least 30 days to be considered for enrollment in the program.

Kerri Rhodes said her son died in 2019 after a relapse.

In high school, he was prescribed medication after shoulder surgery.

“He would tell us later that when he took those opioids, his brain felt normal for the first time,” she said.

His son graduated from Patrick Henry High School, then began his studies at NC State University. It was then that he began drug treatment, but his recovery was cut short a month after he completed drug treatment.

“He relapsed and what he had had fentanyl in it,” Rhodes said. “They are not protected like other students with disabilities. I mean, we know addiction is a brain disease, but it’s not treated like a brain disease.

She thinks a high school recovery program like Hope Academy — which can bridge the gap between drug treatment and recovery — could have saved her son’s life.

“I really wonder what his recovery would have been like if he had access to consistent recovery throughout his high school experience because that’s what he didn’t have,” she said. .

Tucker Wrenn, a Richmond-area peer recovery specialist who previously struggled with high school drug addiction, said high school students either tried to fit in or were unaware of the long-term consequences.

“It’s not just about smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol anymore,” he said. “We see Xanax, heroin and all that stuff creeping into high schools now,” he said.

Wrenn is four years sober and mentors young adults ages 18-20. He said he hopes this pilot program can truly transform the lives of these students.

“For me, that is a game-changer. It eliminates going to treatment, coming back and being around the same people, places and things,” he said.

Fried said this type of school would be the first of its kind in Virginia. She said they are also looking to get the school accredited when the time comes.

Hope Academy is scheduled to open in August 2022.

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