Rebecca Bonner, the head of school at the Bridge Way School — a recovery high school — understands how difficult addiction can be for high school students. Bonner’s daughter was 14 years old during the height of her addiction.
Bonner said that when he daughter was struggling, she tried to find a recovery high school for her to attend but the closest one was in Boston. There are also no recovery houses for students under the age of 18, she added. Overall, there are limited options for high school students or minors who struggle with a substance use disorder.
One of the main barriers for high school students staying in recovery is the fact that most students simply go back to their old high schools after they receive treatment. By sending students back to their high schools — and subsequently the places and people with whom they used substances — there is a higher chance that the students will begin using again due to influence from their friends and peers, or simply familiarity.
“If it was an adult, we would never send them back to the bar where they were hanging out before they got treatment,” she said. “But we do that to high school students all the time.”
At the Bridge Way School, which Bonner said takes 10-12 students per year, students have the opportunity to recover in a community that is supportive and understanding. The Bridge Way School has multiple daily check-ins to help students talk about their needs and process groups four times per week. The biggest support for students at the school, however, is the other students, who Bonner said all help and support each other throughout their recovery.
“It is peer pressure in the best way possible,” Bonner said.
Additionally, the Bridge Way School does not have a zero tolerance policy. If students at the school use substances, Bonner said they use it as a “teachable moment” as long as the students are honest. The program, however, is built for young people who are ready to commit to not using substances.
“Honesty is really the policy at our school,” Bonner said. “Because secrets are what make us sick.”