Allentown, Pa. — The Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, is opening a drug and alcohol recovery high school for students, combining education, counseling, and faith in promoting healing.

Kolbe Academy will start its first term in September 2019. It will be a Catholic high school for students dealing with addiction, looking to recover from drug or alcohol abuse.

The academy is named after St. Maximillian Kolbe, who is the patron saint of people struggling with addiction.

Before entering the school, a student must have reached at least 30 days of sobriety. The school’s tuition will be about $16,000, which is similar to a 28-day treatment program. According to the diocese, it expects to establish scholarships to assist students with tuition.

Brook Tusche, the diocesan deputy superintendent of secondary and special education, told CNA that she had first discovered recovery schools after working in the public school system. She said the lack of effective resources in public schools for students with substance abuse was frustrating.

Normally, students who undergo treatment have only a 20 percent chance of sustaining their sobriety when they re-enter school. In comparison, she said recovery high schools have an 85 percent success rate maintaining sobriety.

After serving as a special education supervisor and director at a public school, Tusche was asked to join a recovery charter school. However, she found that secular recovery schools were still missing an important aspect — faith, described by Alcoholics Anonymous and similar groups as accepting a higher power.

“Many of these models were private, public, or charter, and they were not engaging a faith component,” she said. “Being actively engaged in my faith family and my work, I learned so much about addiction and recovery that the faith component is it. That’s the missing piece.”

Tusche pointed to a study conducted by the Pew Foundation, which highlighted the role of faith in the healing process. She said the study looked at those who reached long term recovery, 10 years or more of sobriety, and uncovered a widespread connection to faith.

“Those addicts in the recovery said the single reason they were able to maintain their sobriety and continue to grow in their recovery was because of their faith.”

In 2017, there were more than 72,000 drug overdose deaths in the nation, Tusche said, and Pennsylvania was the state with the fourth-highest overdose rates.

Kolbe Academy will accept about 80-90 students, in order to ensure an environment conducive to healing.

“That is done very deliberately to keeping a very small environment so that we really can cultivate the family component as well as the students’ individual healing and recovery,” Tusche said.

Pillars of the Program

The program is a trifecta of sorts, promoting healing through a strong diocesan curriculum, intensive counseling, and a plethora of spiritual and sacramental opportunities.

Part of the education, she said, will be an online component. This is especially important for students whose school life has been impaired through their addiction or the initiation of their recovery. The virtual class option will allow students to catch up on the credits they may have missed.

The school will also utilize a variety of mental health professionals, including certified recovery specialists, certified coaches, and drug and alcohol certified counselors.

Part of the school’s goal, Tusche said, is to direct students to develop a peer-to-peer fellowship model.

“Recovery is more than just putting down the substance…[it’s] really understanding who they are themselves, understanding their strengths, some of their triggers for them.”

A major aspect of the counseling process will be family counseling and the development of a family support system. Because addiction affects family, friends, and the community, Tusche said, it is important to undergo healing along with the community.

“In order for true healing to happen, we all have to experience that healing, and families and friends need to be a part of that process because [the addicted] struggle with a stigma, with their own sense of guilt and shame, their own enabling.”

The family support will deal with a spectrum of experience levels – parents who may never have previously encountered addiction in their lives or parents who themselves struggle with addictive habits. The school will look to connect those families with other resources in the community, such as Catholic Charities.

The final aspect of the recovery program is spiritual – the school will include frequent prayer and service opportunities, seeking to reach students of all faiths.

It will be an “authentically Catholic experience with Mass, sacraments, with prayers in every class, with service, with campus ministry, and opportunit[ies] for kids who are Catholic and who are not Catholic to come in and experience what higher power is,” Tusche said.

 

Working Through Relapse

While many high schools have a zero-tolerance policy, meaning students are expelled if they are caught even once with drugs or alcohol, Kolbe Academy will work with students to discover the reasons behind the relapse. Tusche clarified that the school will not tolerate terrorist threats, weapons, or intent to distribute.

“For individual use or relapse that may or may not have happened on campus, we are going to work with students for their safety and for their continued healing,” she said. “That may mean increased drug testing, increased accountability, [and] increased counseling sessions.”

Relapse does not always occur, but if it does happen, it is important for students to recognize the reasons behind the relapse, she said. Students can learn to identify the triggers which appeared before the relapse and the behavior that set them up for that regression.

“The most important thing in a relapse isn’t the actual day they brought the substance into their system, it’s looking back prior to that because a relapse really is behavioral, the thinking behind a relapse starts before they actually ingest that chemical.”

With the statistics pointing to rapidly increasing overdose deaths nationwide, Tusche voiced hope that faith-based recovery schools will be modeled throughout the country.

“Clearly, there is opportunity for and a need for more of this model, not only here locally, but when you look at those staggering statistics – 72,000 lives lost – this could be a national model in integrating quality academics, intensive recovery support in a faith based environment to help these kids heal, and really embrace their true identity and God’s purpose for their life.”