Hope Academy COO testifies in support of SB 62

Rachelle Gardner, chief operating officer of Hope Academy – the recovery high school supported by Fairbanks – recently testified before the Indiana Senate’s Education and Career Development Committee in support of Senate Bill 62. The bill, authored by Sens. Randall Head, Jeff Raatz and Dennis Kruse, regards substance abuse reduction programming. More information may be found at https://iga.in.gov/legislative/2017/bills/senate/62.

Here is the transcript of Gardner’s testimony:

My name is Rachelle Gardner and I have the privilege to serve as the chief operating officer for Hope Academy, the recovery high school at Fairbanks in Indianapolis. Additionally, I have served as the director of adolescent services at Fairbanks Addiction Treatment Center for 24 years. My entire career has been spent working with teens who are struggling with substance abuse.

I am here to show my support of Senate Bill 62 because I believe that effective prevention programs do work for young people.

Hope Academy is a public charter school sponsored by the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office. We serve students in grades 9 through 12 who are seeking a safe, sober and supportive environment. Hope is the only recovery high school in Indiana and one of 35 recovery high schools across the country. There are 1.3 million young people ages 12-17 that are affected with substance use disorders. In the past 10 years, Hope Academy has served over 500 students struggling with this problem and have been an integral part in their path to recovery.

As I mentioned earlier, my entire career has been spent working with teens struggling with substance abuse. In my 25-plus years of professional experience, substance abuse among teens has increased due to easier access to drugs and alcohol, society’s normalization of consuming alcohol and marijuana, history of addiction in the family and lack of access to and funding for effective prevention programs.

Prevention interventions designed and tested to address risk factors can help children at every step along their developmental path. Working more broadly with families, schools and communities, researchers have found effective ways to help young people gain the skills to stop problem behaviors before they occur.

Prevention programs can be designed to intervene as early as preschool to address risk factors for drug abuse, such as aggressive behavior, poor social skills and academic difficulties, and can be built upon through college.

Prevention programs are most effective when they employ interactive techniques, such as peer discussion groups and parent role-playing, that allow for active involvement in learning about drug abuse and in reinforcing skills. Research-based prevention programs can be cost-effective. Similar to earlier research, recent research shows that for each dollar invested in prevention, a savings of up to $10 in treatment for alcohol or other substance abuse can be seen.

Data collected from Hope Academy students shows 68 percent begin abusing substances before the age of 13. A person’s brain does not fully develop until the age of 25. The abuse of substances interrupts natural and key processes of brain development, causing harmful implications for academic, occupational and social functioning, and it can extend into adulthood. Research indicates that students who have substance abuse disorders and are not in recovery will likely drop out of high school, face a life of incarceration or they will die from the disease (source: Indiana Prevention Research Center).

Educating the community about substance abuse and its consequences is a crucial component of Fairbanks’ mission. We strive to be more proactive and to use education as a preventative measure. We have worked with several schools in central Indiana to educate their students about substance abuse. We take students from Hope Academy to area high schools and middle schools to speak candidly with the students about their experience of substance abuse and their hope and recovery. Hearing from a peer has proven to be very effective. Often after one of our students speaks to the student body we are approached by a young person who is either struggling with substance abuse or has a friend who is struggling. We are making an impact, but it’s not enough!

For prevention programs to be a success in Indiana, it’s crucial that we begin to educate children, parents and school staff about drugs and alcohol early and often, and continue the programming throughout high school.

We are in support of Senate Bill 62 and welcome the opportunity to be a part of the discussion and planning to support our young people and in stopping this epidemic.