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First high school for teens trying to beat addictions opening in Colorado Springs

October 30, 2016 Updated: October 31, 2016 at 2:43 pm
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photo - Community Prep School (Photo courtesy: Facebook)
Community Prep School (Photo courtesy: Facebook) 

A sober high school for kids recovering from addiction to drugs or alcohol is on its way to opening in a few months.

Saying it's a unique idea that would be new to the Pikes Peak region, Colorado Springs School District 11's board last week unanimously approved a charter change for Community Preparatory School. Six of the seven board members were present.

Community Prep, an alternative education charter school that answers to D-11's board, gained permission to add a separate program for students working to overcome substance abuse, starting Jan. 30.

"We are grateful to School District 11 for their support of this program," Community Prep Director Martin Schneider said Friday, after finalizing plans for the new school. "We are excited to help turn around the lives of youth who have struggled with addiction."

Landmark Community School will be the first sober high school in Colorado, Schneider said. The mission: "provide a relevant, high-quality education in a therapeutically supportive, sober environment."

It will open in a defunct school building at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 846 E. Pikes Peak Ave., east of downtown Colorado Springs.

Enrollment will start with up to 20 students ages 14-19 and expand to 60 students in four years, according to plans.

Students have to be in a recovery treatment program for abusing illegal or prescription drugs or alcohol to qualify for enrollment.

Landmark will be run educationally and financially under Community Prep and use its resources.

Community Prep, which started in 1995 for students who have trouble succeeding in traditional schools, has been on the state's "turnaround status" for poor academic performance but is working on improvements, Schneider said.

Community involvement is a key piece of how the new school will operate, he said.

A grassroots coalition of citizens has been working on the idea for two years, he said, and more than 80 people, including Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, have attended organizational meetings.

"These are people who understand addiction and what it takes to create an environment for young people to recover," Suthers told The Gazette in May. "There's an amazing number of kids who are recovering from addiction, and it's something we shouldn't ignore."

Between grants and other donations, organizers have received $64,000 in funding, Schneider said, and are seeking additional sources of community-based funding.

Organizations such as Springs Recovery Connection have embraced the concept, which is operating at 40 high schools across the nation.

High school is a "hostile environment" for kids trying to get sober, said Cathy Plush, co-founder of Springs Recovery Connection, which provides peer support for individuals and families dealing with addiction.

What typically happens is youths get sent to treatment, then return home and go back to school, she said.

"They often immediately relapse," Plush said. "There's a stigma associated with it, and they don't get the message that it's OK to be well. It's hard enough for adults, let alone kids."

Landmark Community School will provide mental, physical and spiritual recovery support services - such as counseling and urine analysis tests - while meeting state academic requirements for awarding a high school diploma. Organizers plan to seek accreditation through the Association of Recovery Schools, a nationwide accreditation program headquartered in Denver.

Teachers are being trained in principles of recovery but will not necessarily have had a personal experience with addiction, organizers said.

The program will feature an individual plan for academics and recovery for each student, to include prescribed medication and addressing other issues such as depression or attention deficit disorder. Family counseling also will be part of the program.

The need is huge, Schneider said, anticipating that many Landmark students will come from Community Prep.

"To have a full-time place where it is safe and encouraged and supported to not use in a healthy environment would be life-changing for many of them," said Colorado Springs psychotherapist Polly Fiedler.

The school will have a four-year "incubation" period, with the goal of becoming an independent operation.

Landmark will host community information meetings in December and January, on dates to be announced. For more information, contact Program Manager Leslie Patterson, 522-3381.

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