Recovery high school proposed in Roxborough

Officials with a local nonprofit spoke to Manayunk residents Monday night about their efforts to open the region’s first high school for students recovering from substance abuse.

As early as February, the Greater Philadelphia Association for Recovery Education would like to start an independent day school in Roxborough on the grounds of the Mishkan Shalom synagogue on Freeland Avenue near Shurs Lane.

It’s the group’s goal to provide recovering students from across the Delaware Valley a safe place to learn before transitioning back to a traditional learning environment.

“The hardest thing for kids to do and for a parent to do is to send your child to treatment and then send them back to high school,” said board member Beth Fitzsimons to members of the Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association gathered inside Pilgrim Church.

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“You know who is waiting for them inside the door and you know it’s not the person you want them to be with,” she added.

Residents at the WNCA meeting brought up the challenges of protecting those kids from temptation and keeping them off drugs. 

To keep its student body away from influences that could lead to relapse, the school will only be open to those who are actively working towards recovery. Students must be sober for 30 days to be eligible to enroll and must attend 12-step meetings each day and agree to be randomly drug tested once admitted.

All students – most of whom will be coming from residential or outpatient treatment programs – will be required to remain in the school’s program for at least one, 90-day semester.

The school will also hold non-traditional hours – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Executive Director Rebecca Bonner said students are likely to be more engaged in the learning process if they start later in the day, but they also won’t have the opportunity to mingle with kids from other neighborhood high schools.

The school’s concept is relatively new. There are only about 30 recovery – or “sober schools”- across the country with the closest of the non-boarding variety located in Boston.

Bonner, who will serve as the school’s academic head, estimates that 8 to10 students will attend in the first year, but predicted the student body will gradually grow with a cap of 50 students.

While the school is exploring the possibility of becoming a charter with the School District of Philadelphia in the future, each semester will have a $19,000 price tag for now.

The school’s board, however, is working on building up funds to provide scholarships to students who need financial assistance to attend, said Bonner. 

School officials will meet with the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment Dec. 15 to see if they will be approved to use the synagogue’s space they plan to lease.

It’s not currently zoned for daily classroom use.

They will also meet with the Pennsylvania Board of Education in January to discuss the process for obtaining a state license.

Bonner said she is hopeful the school will be able to clear both of these potential hurdles. “We want to get kids clean and make them productive members of society,” said Bonner.

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