For teens in recovery, going back to their home schools and old friends can mean returning to old habits. If your teen has made a firm commitment to recovery, you might consider the option of sending your child to a sober high school like I did.
Sober high schools are academic institutions that have a state approved academic curriculum and recovery support services for teenagers in recovery from alcohol and other drug abuse or dependence. These schools typically combine academics with a recovery culture that includes counseling for students and families.
Finding the right one can be challenging though. Here are 10 important questions every parent should ask a sober high school before enrolling:
1.) What kind of training has the staff had regarding adolescent addiction?
When my son was in a sober high school, the principal was a kind and knowledgeable educator, but he did not have a background in adolescent addiction and was easily manipulated into thinking the kids would voluntarily admit if they or fellow students were using. That didn’t happen. Like teenagers everywhere, not to mention teenage addicts, the kids lied about their own use and covered up for their friends. Staff needs to be educated and trained in adolescent addiction.
2.) Does staff include specialists like therapists and substance abuse counselors?
Many students in recovery deal with co-occurring disorders like ADHD, depression, OCD or mood disorders. They may need some “mental health time” during the week, either individually or in groups. They also need substance abuse counselors who can reinforce recovery. The school should have a licensed counselor on staff.
3.) What is the curriculum like? How is it different or similar to mainstream high school curriculum?
One of the things I liked about my son’s sober high school was how the teachers incorporated the kids’ experiences and interests into curriculum. Another neat aspect was encouraging artistic and creative expression as both part of healing and recovery and an opportunity to explore various mediums using new technology or traditional craft approaches. Self-expression, creativity and the chance to discuss how recovery relates to the real world are desirable curriculum components.
4.) Does the sober high school meet state requirements for awarding a high school degree?
Students in recovery are often behind in credits. It is important that they receive valid credits for transferring to either another high school, for graduating with a degree, or for entrance into college. Check out the school’s certification by the state.
5.) What are the consequences for relapses?
We don’t want to think about it, but there is some likelihood that students will relapse. Reasonable consequences might be anything from requiring counseling sessions or creating or revisiting a relapse prevention protocol to expulsion. Schools have individual policies.
6.) How is relapse or drug use monitored?
Although urine screens are often ineffective because they are not carefully witnessed or because kids can order substances that disguise drug use off the internet, they are still a deterrent.
Relying on students to self-report is not feasible.
7.) What is the school’s philosophy regarding 12-step meetings?
Not all recovery facilities subscribe to 12-step philosophy. What does the sober high school recommend? Does it have a requirement for going to meetings? Does it offer meetings during school, or provide space as a meeting place for the community in general? What is your preference regarding a 12-step approach to recovery?
8.) What is the follow-up for leaving the sober high school environment?
Is there any transition provided for going back to a mainstream school or for post-graduation success?
9.) How is the sober high school funded?
Sober high schools are most often private schools that cost thousands of dollars a semester although there are some alternative schools connected with public school systems. Does the school offer scholarships? Will parents be expected to fundraise? If so, are you willing to be open about substance abuse in the family? Being honest about substance abuse problems and resources like a sober high school is an important step in educating your community about the importance of a drug and alcohol free environment for kids in recovery.
10.) What is the refund policy?
Kids relapse. We know this. A sober high school is for students who are actively pursuing recovery. Sometimes it is necessary for a student to withdraw to go back to treatment or because he or she is unwilling to commit to recovery at that point in time. This is a practical matter that should be considered up front.
Editor’s Note: Remember to make sure the school meets state requirements for granting diplomas. For a list of recovery high schools and universities with sober dorms click here: www.recoveryschools.org.