By Patrick Ralph |
LINCROFT – As a former school principal, Nelyda Perez has seen and worked closely with students and families who have struggled with substance abuse. Now, as an assistant superintendent for the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District, Perez and her colleagues are taking the lead on opening the first addiction recovery high school in Monmouth County.
“I saw what was happening and the students couldn’t handle it mentally or emotionally,” Perez said about kids dealing with school and addiction.
So Matawan-Aberdeen Regional partnered with the nonprofit Right Your Life to launch K.E.Y.S. (Knowledge Empowers Youth and Sobriety) Academy at Brookdale Community College earlier this month. The new addiction recovery high school, which officially began classes on Jan. 2, is the second of its kind in the Garden State.
According to the school district’s website, the mission of the program is “to provide an academically innovative and supportive environment which will serve to eliminate the achievement gap for adolescents who have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder and are seeking a sober, healthy lifestyle.”
Working closely with adolescents who have suffered substance use disorders, Right Your Life came to Matawan-Aberdeen Regional with the idea to open the first addiction recovery high school in the area. “We began researching about recovery high school programs and we decided that we needed to focus more on providing students resources in order to fully recover,” Perez said.
After drawing up the plan and proposal for the school, the New Jersey Department of Education awarded Matawan-Aberdeen Regional a $1.3 million grant to fund the school. The grant will cover the tuition and transportation costs for students from both Monmouth County and throughout the region who attend the addiction recovery high school.
Adolescents who return to their original environment after receiving treatment for substance abuse have a higher percentage of relapse, according to Perez. Monmouth County has been identified as one of six counties in New Jersey with the highest rates of substance abuse addiction, according to the county prosecutor’s office.
To combat this trend, the new recovery high school is focused on ensuring student graduation by working through the progress of recovery. The program is putting a premium on both academics and high-intensity therapeutic sessions. Admission to the school is on a rolling basis and students may begin after seeking treatment and starting the recovery process.
The program will also focus on maintaining a small student-to-teacher ratio, with a maximum class size of 12 students per class. With four students enrolled and five pending admission, K.E.Y.S. Academy currently employs two teachers, an on-site nurse and counselors. The curriculum will be an extension of the Matawan Regional High School curriculum, with students at the recovery high school taking the same classes as those at the traditional high school.
K.E.Y.S. Academy, which will be overseen and run by the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional Administration, will be using classrooms in Brookdale’s Bankier Library until renovations are completed on a building donated by the community college. K.E.Y.S. Academy students will be able to use the college’s cafeteria and gym while taking college preparatory courses.
“Brookdale is very proud to be the host site for the K.E.Y.S. Academy Recovery High School,” said David Stout, interim president of Brookdale, in a statement. “The disease of addiction has deeply affected so many in our community, and those students and families who are working to overcome it deserve all the support we can provide. In partnership with the Matawan-Aberdeen School District and Right Your Life, it is an honor to provide our youth with a healthy, supportive environment to complete their high school education and pursue the bright, promising future they deserve.”
While the school is geared toward Monmouth County adolescents, the state-funded grant allows the recovery school to bring in students from outside the region. The enrollment process includes an intake appointment with the student and their parents or legal guardians, as well as a full review of the student’s grades, health and other factors with the student’s current school district.
“We want to open doors to opportunities for these adolescents,” Perez said. “We want to provide them with safety and wellness and hope that this school can serve as a model for other schools.”
This article was first published in the Feb. 1-8, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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