Massachusetts high school focuses on support, recovery for students

March 13, 2014
Inpatient substance abuse treatment is one of the most effective and emotionally supportive ways those struggling with addiction can break their habits, but for teens who live in social environments that may pressure them to abuse drugs, a strong support network that helps them stay sober can make all the difference. Sometimes that support comes in the form of caring family members or professional counselors.

However, in one Massachusetts high school where the entire student body is in recovery, the teenagers are their own support system. Through daily meetings and regular activities organized by teachers and administrators, Northshore Recovery High School works to provide teens with the guidance and strength they need to maintain their sobriety and live on past their struggles with addiction.

A complete education

The Brockton Enterprise reported on Northshore Recovery High School’s unique mission to provide teenagers with a system of support that will help them establish a solid base of sobriety that will last them for the rest of their lives. While other schools may teach for standardized testing requirements, the alternative Beverly, Mass., high school has a much more immediate mandate: to help its students as they struggle through addiction.

With the help of teachers who hold daily meetings to discuss the problems in students’ homes and emotional lives, as well as activities that are meant to empower and educate, principal Michelle Lipinski seeks to provide order and stability in the lives of teens who may have very little.

One of Lipinski’s steadfast rules is daily eye contact.

“I call it taking the temperature,” Lipinski told The Enterprise. “You get a sense of who’s been with who, who’s been doing what.”

“I probably get asked how I’m doing here 20 to 30 times a day,” said senior Jake O’Neil. “And they mean it when they ask. Honestly, if it wasn’t for this school, I don’t know where I’d be.”

A growing initiative

While Massachusetts isn’t the epicenter of a national drug abuse epidemic, the state has been moving forward with alternative treatments for those recovering from drug abuse. Jail time and other punishments haven’t had much effect on the usage rates in the state – especially among teenagers. In search of a better method, Massachusetts adopted alternative education efforts first started in Minnesota toward the end of the 1980s.

The Massachusetts Recovery High Schools website explained that these types of community-support high schools have consistently increased the rates of sustained sobriety, attendance and GPAs among teenagers struggling with drug abuse. When these students are placed in normal educational environments, the lack of oversight leads to drastic decreases in all of these rates.

Like Lipinski’s daily eye contact rule, the program has strict guidelines for admittance and continued attendance. Students must be at least 30 days sober before applying to Northshore Recovery High School and, along with their families, must sign an accountability agreement to demonstrate their dedication to their sobriety.

The school does not approach relapse from a zero-tolerance perspective, however. While relapse may point to further issues that need to be addressed in the student, the school conceptualizes the setback as a part of the recovery process as a whole.

“Kids are in different stages,” one of Northshore’s teachers told The Enterprise. “They are not all in the same state. But they’re on the same journey.”

The success of the school has led state lawmakers to consider opening several branches around Massachusetts. Admission can be selective at the Beverly school and priority is given to teenagers from the immediate area. With branches in other parts of the state, though, teenagers committed to their sobriety can get the support they need to achieve their full potentials.

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