The first recovery high school opened in 1979, Finch said. But there hasn’t been much rigorous research into how well the programs work compared to traditional schools. In fact, Hope is at the forefront of site-based research, he said. A study of Hope’s program from 2014 found that when students stop using drugs, their academic outcomes improve, said Mary Jo Rattermann, an educational consultant. Hope students who don’t relapse actually show more growth than similar peers at mainstream high schools.
Rattermann initially evaluated Hope for the Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation, which charters the school. When that contract ended, she continued to study the school, first through a contract paid for by Hope and now as part of a national project funded by the Association of Recovery High Schools, she said.
“What Hope Academy is doing is nationally acknowledged as a very successful model,” Rattermann said. “This is a school and it’s about academics, and it’s about being a high-school kid as much as you can give that to them.”
The per student cost at Hope is about $23,000. The school receives more than half that amount from the state, including the per-student funding every charter school receives and a special grant for support services. The rest of the school’s funding comes Fairbanks, grants, and philanthropy, Gardner said.
Part of the reason the bill is so high is because the school is committed to having teachers for every subject rather than relying on online learning, said Gardner. The school can serve as many as 60 students without increasing the number of teachers, she said. Since only about 35 students are currently attending, Hope could push down per-student costs by increasing the number of teens enrolled.
Gardner is certain that more students in the region could benefit from recovery high school, but there’s a stigma to attending a school for teens with substance-abuse problems and some families simply don’t know about Hope, she said. “I tell new schools,” Gardner said, “if I would’ve done anything different, I would’ve put a lot more money in marketing.”
Hope won’t work for every teen. Some students drop out or leave for more intensive treatment. When teens continue to use drugs and alcohol, they are sometimes suspended or expelled. In fact, Dugan herself was briefly expelled from Hope. In her second year at the school, she had fallen deeper into addiction, going from using alcohol and marijuana to injecting heroin. It got so bad in the spring, that she was expelled from the school. But she continued to come back for tutoring and regular drug tests. It was her drug tests that changed everything for Dugan.
For months, she had managed to clean up enough for her heroin use to slip under the radar, Dugan said. But on a spring day in 2014, she made a mistake and her drug test came back positive for opioids. When Dugan’s mother walked into her room to tell her the test result, Dugan could see the pain and resignation in her face. “I just didn’t lie to her,” she said. “I just said, ‘Yeah, I’m still using.’” And that was the end, Dugan said. She stopped using drugs that day and she’s been clean ever since.
When she came back to Hope that fall, she was totally changed, said principal Linda Gagyi. “We had kind of a contract,” she said. “She did amazing … She was truly committed to recovery.”
This article appears courtesy of Chalkbeat Indiana.