Rebecca Bonner, has been with The Bridge Way School since its origins in 2011. For the past six years, the high school has addressed substance use disorder in a comprehensive way that involves built-in recovery supplements to the traditional learning environment. “There is a spectrum of substance use disorders [among high schoolers],” said Bonner, Executive Director of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Recovery Education (GPARE). The Bridge Way School, she continued, acts as an intervention point to prevent a full-blown substance use disorder developing within the student body. While Bonner’s personal story as a mother with a daughter living in recovery with a substance use disorder may have initiated her advocacy work in academic recovery programs, what began as passion for her daughter to receive an equal education turned into a career.
“I like to call it the best kept secret in Philadelphia,” Bonner laughed while explaining the numbers. 92% of her pupils have pursued college degrees, there is generally only 10 or 12 members to a graduating class, yearly tuition is about $25,000, and about 75% of the students receive financial aid. While some suburban districts will pay for a child in their school to be redirected to The Bridge Way School, Bridge Way has run into issues with Philadelphia public schools agreeing to pay for their students to be admitted. This keeps the pupil number lower and thus the funding smaller, but the student to teacher ratio allows for personalized instruction in a way that has kept Bridge Way at such a high graduation rate.
A day at Bridge Way begins with the check-in, a time dedicated to clearing out all personal problems that may be affecting a student in a negative way that could affect their school day performance. This is bookshelves by check-out, dedicated to hearing the next steps one might be taking in their recovery. Process and life skills groups exist to give students refusal skills and other positive coping mechanisms, but all other classes offered are similar to traditional learning environments. An honestly culture promotes healthy discussion before calling out another student for using again, and random drug testing has contributed to an 86% of all Bridge Way students maintaining abstinence during their stay at the school.
“You don’t come here until you need us,” Bonner said of Bridge Way and the specific void it fills in the academic recovery community. The ‘sanctuary model’ under which Bridge Way operates is nonjudgmental and peer-encouraging, which allows the students to take agency in their own recovery. The ability to reclaim one’s life after losing control is arguably the most alluring part of the Bridge Way experience, and one Bonner hopes to extend to others looking to promote recovery through education.