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‘Recovery’ high scheduled to open doors in December

State’s 4th school will have 12-step outlook

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / September 29, 2011

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A new high school for teenagers recovering from substance abuse will open in Brockton in December funded by a $2.5 million state grant and the home school districts of the students who will eventually go there.

Southeastern Massachusetts Recovery High School, the fourth such school in the state, comes at a time when opiate abuse is considered at epidemic proportions, with the state having recorded more than 3,000 deaths from overdoses from 2002 to 2007, deemed the leading cause of death for adults under the age of 25.

Students will not be accepted at the new school unless they are completely committed to their recovery, officials say.

“It’s an incredibly brave thing for a teenager to admit a problem with alcohol or drugs and to seek out treatment,’’ said Brockton School Superintendent Matt Malone, a key proponent of the plan. “This provides a continuum of care in a safe, clean environment free of peer pressure.’’

The school, to open at the site of the former Belmont Elementary School, will follow a 12-step philosophy for about 50 students, ages 14 to 21, from Brockton and surrounding communities.

Its staff will include a principal, four teachers, a substance abuse counselor, a school adjustment counselor, and an intake coordinator.

Tuition is expected to be in the range of $10,000 to $15,000.

The joint effort between the Brockton Public Schools and the nonprofit North River Collaborative in Rockland will be overseen by the nonprofit’s executive director, Joanne Haley Sullivan, and her group’s board of directors.

“There is a critical need for this type of program in this area, and the coalition - which was a unique urban/suburban partnership - worked hard to accomplish this,’’ she said.

The collaborative is an educational organization that provides comprehensive special education services to students from its member school districts of Abington, Avon, Bridgewater-Raynham, East Bridgewater, Hanover, Rockland, West Bridgewater, and Whitman-Hanson. But officials said students from all over Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod would be eligible to attend the recovery school.

The state Department of Public Health will pay the grant in five $500,000 installments to help establish and operate the school. Schools are already operating in Boston, Beverly, and Springfield.

Southeastern Massachusetts Recovery High School will offer a comprehensive academic program leading to a high school diploma, GED completion, and/or dual enrollment in a community college. Online and distance learning will also be offered, as well as in-school and out-of-school counseling, family stabilization initiatives, and educational tutoring and remediation.

“This is a great day for Southeastern Massachusetts,’’ said state Senator Steven A. Tolman, a Brighton Democrat, who has advocated for the schools across the state. “We have seen the positive impact. These schools save lives. Sending these students to a recovery school is often an important last step in the road to recovery.’’

State Senator John F. Keenan, a Quincy Democrat and cochairman of the Legislature’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee, said there is no doubt the new high school will offer great hope to students committed to their recovery.

Brockton resident Bill Carpenter, a father of six who is on the city School Committee, worked with Malone on the school project in what he said was a personal quest to help youths addicted to drugs.

Carpenter’s son, now 23, became hooked on OxyContin and heroin in 2004 as a student at Brockton High School, sending his family into years of turmoil as they struggled to help him.

“My son was introduced to heroin in the locker room of the high school hockey team,’’ Carpenter said. “And he routinely purchased and used drugs at school.’’

Carpenter said he futilely sought help and assistance from the school district’s former leadership but received only lip service. He said his son was in and out of rehab, and as soon as he got clean and returned to school, he would fall back into his old habits within two weeks.

And his family wasn’t alone in its agony, Carpenter said.

“The South Shore and southeastern Massachusetts were being decimated by this crisis,’’ he said.

Carpenter ran for a seat on the School Committee in 2009 and won. Front and center on his agenda was working with Malone on the school idea.

“At the recovery school, kids are surrounded by other people in similar situations who are trying to achieve the same thing,’’ Carpenter said.

Students are tested for drugs often, and are expected to follow the rules. When relapses happen, students are expected to either stay home or turn themselves in as soon as they reach school, he said.

Carpenter said he is hopeful, too, that the school will offer the sense of success that recovering addicts so sorely need, and an easier path to get there. He and others said the threat of drug addiction to young people is universal in Massachusetts and it doesn’t matter whether it is on the hardscrabble streets of Brockton or in Cohasset, by the sea.

“I look at it like this: If another family is in the same position as I was seven years ago, their kid will at least have a place to go. It will be a safe, sober school where they can put their lives back together.’’

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at