Ostiguy Recovery High School A Model For Future Schools

By Victoria Kim 10/12/15

Why aren't more recovery high schools being opened?

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High schools designed for students in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse have been around since the late '70s. As of 2014, there were about only 35 recovery high schools in operation in the United States. But states like Massachusetts have dedicated millions in funding to open more amid the nation’s opioid crisis.

The William J. Ostiguy Recovery High School in Boston is an oft-cited model of a recovery high school. Settled on two floors of an office building, the school is open year round, allowing students to enroll at any time. The staff of 15 works with an average of 30 students, ages 14 to 21, all in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse.

Like any high school, Ostiguy is focused on academics, but provides certain resources, like small classes and a substance abuse counselor with whom students work to develop an individual recovery plan, to help build a foundation for long-term recovery.

The sense of community that one could only experience at a recovery high school is a key part of its success.

“Ostiguy taught me that not everyone gets high, because the people in this school are all sober and in recovery,” said Devin Rich, who enrolled after his second overdose. “So it gave me a network of people who both understood what I was going through but also just people that I could hang out with and spend time with, without having to worry about them using around me.”

Seventy-five percent of students at Ostiguy maintained sobriety for the entire 2012-13 school year, according to the school. About 80% of Ostiguy graduates enroll in college, while many maintain long-term sobriety.

If a student relapses, they must leave school for treatment. But the school’s counselors continue to work with them and their families to focus on appropriate treatment and revise their recovery plans as needed. John McCarthy, Ostiguy’s recovery counselor, sees relapse as a “positive learning opportunity” rather than a screw-up.

“All too often people in recovery in general, not just kids, will convince themselves that once a relapse happens they might as well go all out because they’ve already quote-unquote screwed up. And that’s really unfortunate, because a relapse does not have to be like that,” he told Learning Lab.

Roughly $3.1 million of the state budget recently signed by Gov. Charlie Baker would go to recovery high schools, $1 million of that is allocated for establishing at least two new schools.

Ostiguy is one of four publicly funded recovery high schools in Massachusetts; a new school is scheduled to open in Worcester this fall.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr