Inside Ohio’s First Recovery High School

Inside Ohio’s First Recovery High School

School officials say that the key to their students’ success is having access to recovery coaches, programs and the support of young people like them.

Heartland High School welcomed its inaugural class last September, as it established itself as Ohio’s first and only recovery high school.

Heartland is one of about 40 recovery high schools in the United States, residing in the Broad Street Presbyterian Church in Columbus. With a total of five students, each are able to receive special attention from faculty and staff.

They have all struggled with substance abuse and completed a treatment program to get into Heartland. School officials say that the key to their students’ success is having access to recovery support (recovery coaches and programs) and perhaps most important of all, the support of young people like them.

Peer Pressure

A common problem for young people in recovery is having to go to school where they are surrounded by peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol. A past study found that “virtually all adolescents” returning to school from a treatment program were offered drugs on their first day back.

“When you go back to your school of origin, you’re around the same people you used with before, the same people who might be dealing to you,” said Paige Stewart, a clinical psychologist and the head of Heartland. “You’re around the same stressors. And now you have extra stressors, because now you’re that kid who comes back to school that’s been to rehab, so there’s stigma there.”

One student, Alyssa, began using drugs and alcohol at 13. She relapsed after returning to school from a treatment program, caving in to the peer pressure around her. “All these people are attacking me, and saying, ‘Oh you’re lame because you don’t want to go to an after party for homecoming’ or whatever. And I was like, I don’t want to use drugs. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink anymore. ‘What’s wrong with you, why don’t you want to party, why don’t you want to be a normal high schooler?’” Alyssa told WOSU.

Peer Support

Now at Heartland, Alyssa is surrounded by people who are supportive of her recovery. “You put me in a sober environment and I hear all these sobriety terms and recovery words and that’s what I’m going to want, ya know? That’s what I’m excited to want.”

One should note that for families who have already spent a significant sum on treatment programs for their children, the $20,000 tuition for a regular school year at Heartland may sting.

But the school is working on securing money to fund its students’ education year round. So far it will be able to provide its summer program this year, which normally costs $500, for free.

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