Rebecca Bonner. (Photo by Albert Hong)

Rebecca Bonner. (Photo by Albert Hong)

Recovery high schools are valuable necessities for students who are in recovery from substance use disorders.

Rebecca Bonner realized this as clear as day when her daughter fell into opiates and discovered that the “local high school was her pharmacy of choice.”

“I was literally watching her die before my eyes,” Bonner said.

So the natural next step for her was to search for the nearest recovery high school in Philadelphia, but at the time, the nearest one was located in Boston and Bonner wasn’t ready to move away from her home. For the time being, her daughter continued attending that high school, and thanks to some resources including connections to teachers who were also in long-term recovery, she was able to get through high school and started attending Temple University where her biggest steps to recovery took place by staying preoccupied with service-oriented work.

But Bonner didn’t want other high school students in recovery to go through the same risks and dangers her daughter did, so in 2011, she started Bridge Way High School which continues to be the only high school in the region for students grades 9-12 in recovery for the entire region. The main benefit a recovery high school provides its students is being surrounded by peers who are going through similar struggles and who all want to get better.

“It’s the best kind of peer pressure,” Bonner said.

The specialized schedules for Bridge Way includes starting off the day with a check-in for the kids, where they’ll have the chance to reflect on their previous days and just talk about what’s on their minds. Classes are business as usual, but again at the end of the day, another check-in of sorts is had with the kids, with the focus of these steps being to always remain in communication and hopefully, build relationships over time so that the students aren’t keeping any secrets.

Drug tests are administered with students’ consents but even with a requirement for students to be sober while attending Bridge Way, there’s no ‘zero-tolerance policy’ in play. For Bonner, “it’s secrets that make us sick” and actually have the potential to threaten the well-being of other students if a negative influences is within the school.

According to Bonner, 92 percent of Bridge Way’s students go to college and 86 percent maintain total abstinence throughout their stay. The small teacher-student ratio the school maintains, around 10-20 students in total, allows for more individualized attention. Yet when the school district of Philadelphia is faced with the positive benefits that a recovery high school like Bridge Way can provide, there’s more opposition than support. Local schools will often not necessarily want to send their kids to a recovery high school, one reason being how schools receive funds based on the number of students enrolled.

Also, Bonner said there’s a misplaced fear within schools that parents will want to send their child to a recovery high school because their child smokes marijuana on the weekends — she’s clear when saying that Bridge Way is not for kids who “successfully use,” that is, don’t necessarily have a substance use disorder.

The backlash against Bridge Way isn’t the only issue for Bonner, as funds and resources are getting scarcer and scarcer for the school, especially with the deficit the school is operating on this year. She’s been on a fundraising spree to try and help with costs but the school may need more help soon.