Group to study potential for recovery high school in Berkshires
PITTSFIELD, MASS. — Should Berkshire County be the home for the next recovery high school?
That's a question local officials and substance abuse experts have begun quietly exploring amid the scourge of opioid abuse in the region.
A small group of political and community leaders, including state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, are planning to visit Worcester Recovery High School in the coming days to assess whether such a facility could work in the Berkshires.
"I'd like to see what type of kids are admitted, what their family structure is like and what the programs are like," Pignatelli said. "I'm keeping an open mind, because the concept is a good one.
A recovery high school is a post-treatment facility that helps high school students earn their diplomas while at the same time, offers treatment for addiction to drugs and alcohol, according to massrecoveryhs.org, the state website that provides information on the schools.
There are presently five recovery high schools in the state: in Springfield, Beverly, Boston, Brockton and Worcester. There is funding in Gov. Charlie Baker's budget for two more.
"One of the big reasons I'm going out there to see the school is for more information before I can support committing public funds to something like this," Pignatelli said.
The Worcester school, which opened in September, serves high school-aged students who are on the road to recovery and are in need of a structured environment to remain on that road, according to Principal Susan M. Strong, a former Lenox resident and former director of special education at Monument Mountain Regional High School.
Referrals usually come from detox centers and long-term rehabilitation facilities, she said. The students follow a college preparatory curriculum and take the MCAS.
The Worcester student body is 30 high-school aged kids, Strong said. There are two students from the city; many are from the suburbs.
"A lot of the students we have are from the smaller communities around Worcester," Strong said. "The towns remind me of Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Lee and Lenox."
Some of the students in Worcester were high school athletes before they fell into addiction after an injury and began treating the injury with opioids.
"These aren't what people would typically see as drug addicts," she said. "A lot of them are good students and some are athletes. They're kids that have gone through treatment and know they need help to stay clean."
The other piece of the program is that families must be involved in the program.
"We have a strong family component," she said.
Ananda Timpane, executive director of the Great Barrington-based Railroad Street Youth Project, also will be visiting the school.
RSYP is a nonprofit organization that empowers youth in South County and assists in facilitating addiction issues in youth.
"This is a national movement, and it's worked in other places," she said of recovery high schools. "And many, many young people here need these kinds of services."
She said she was curious about the referral process, the curriculum and if there is enough of a "critical mass" in the Berkshires to merit such a school.
Both Pignatelli and Timpane acknowledged that efforts to open such a facility in the Berkshires would meet some resistance.
"The stigma in the county about drugs and drug addiction is powerful," Pignatelli said. "There are a lot of people with negative feelings about it."
Strong agreed that the stigma of locating a post-treatment program in the Berkshires would present a challenge. But she pointed to the success she's seen in Worcester.
"A kid isn't going to shoot up and then come to school here," she said. "We only take students committed to recovery."
Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.
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