Behind the Scenes with Recovery High School Teachers

One of the many challenges parents face when confronting a teenager's substance abuse is figuring out how to provide the treatment and recovery help they need – without being forced to sacrifice a quality high school education in the process.

Once in recovery, the thought of sending kids back into the same high school environment that likely helped fuel their substance use isn't a comfortable decision, either. That’s where the option of recovery high schools comes into play, giving parents and students the opportunity to breathe a little easier.

The Recovery School Difference

The students at Archway shift considerably into more loving and genuine people and often report that being a sober student is completely empowering.-Sasha McLeanArchway Academy, in Houston, TX, is considered by many to be a model recovery high school. Executive Director Sasha McLean says she and her staff combine regular education with support systems. Some of those systems include recovery coaches and an on-site counseling staff that's focused on facilitating the emotional/physical health and spiritual growth of every student.

"We all intuitively want to be kind, show love, receive love and live out the best of who we are," McLean says. "Addiction, ego, trauma and selfishness all block us from being that person. The students at Archway shift considerably into more loving and genuine people and often report that being a sober student is completely empowering."

Student Benefits

One of the many benefits at Archway and other recovery schools is smaller class sizes, according to Sonny Sanborn, social studies teacher at Archway. "The low teacher-student ratio is a huge difference at Archway," Sanborn says. "I can give more individual attention, answer more questions from each student and connect in a real way."

Since research shows that a young person’s brain isn’t fully developed until about age 25, Sanborn says his ultimate goal is to stimulate young minds that have been temporarily "derailed" by bad decisions.

"One of my favorite things to witness each year is a new student come in, flop down and start to goof off but then look around and be shocked that no one else in the room is joining him, that everyone else is taking great notes, giving their opinions, and working hard," he explains.

"It’s positive peer pressure and it’s fun to see."

Students Pulling Their Own Weight

Archway Academy, a public school funded by Southwest Schools, demands a lot from its students and holds them accountable, two things often not found in traditional high schools. But the trade-off lies in the young lives that are transformed. Sanborn says he’s taught in other schools where he might have seen one or two students go through a major transformation during a school year.

"Here, I see it almost 30 times a year. I’ve seen so many teenagers come into Archway with such serious issues that earning a diploma is the last thing on their minds. Their parents would tell you—two or three years before they graduate—that their kids have no shot of walking across the stage," Sanborn reveals.

"I’m often asked why I keep coming back to a tough environment, and I counter with a better question: Why doesn’t everyone else want to teach here?"

Learn More about the available treatment options for drug abuse

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