Hope Academy offers safe, sober environment for teens in recovery from drugs and alcohol

Hope Academy is a tuition-free Indiana public charter high school for students in recovery from drugs and alcohol that is supported by Fairbanks. It’s the only recovery high school in Indiana and one of only 35 nationwide.

So how does Hope Academy help keep its students in recovery? Brad Trolson, a recovery coach at the school, says they achieve it by creating a positive community full of support systems.

“We want our students and staff to be tight-knit – to know and understand one another, including the struggles we’re facing and what we need to do to meet those challenges,” Trolson said.

Hope Academy has designed the curriculum and the school day to foster this sense of community. For example, the Monday and Friday school days begin with Community Circle, where students and staff share personal details about their recovery, read meditations and discuss spiritual principles they’re working on like perseverance, commitment and faith.

Hope Academy also has a Community Day every six weeks. It’s an entire day of no classes, but rather random activities that help build the community. In the past that’s included making dog biscuits for the Humane Society and gift bags for residents at a senior living facility.

“They’re activities that are meant to bring the students and staff together to have fun and get to know each other, and relate to each other on a different level from just the academic setting,” Trolson said.

Given Hope Academy’s small size, teachers are able to keep tabs on each student’s recovery.

“They’re able to provide even more individual support that way,” Trolson said.

Unfortunately, students do relapse. If one does relapse, the student will identify peers who are doing well in their recovery and meet to discuss what happened and what can be done to prevent future relapse.

“It’s a chance for them to talk and get to know each other better,” Trolson said. “Again, the ultimate goal is to build that community and relate to each other on a different level.”

Students get drug screens at least twice monthly to ensure they’re maintaining their recovery. Parents are informed of any positive test. In those cases, along with a peer support group, Hope Academy’s staff also facilitates an “unpacking.” In that process they analyze the student’s life 24 to 48 hours prior to using – who they were with, what they were doing, what they were thinking and feeling.

“We’re looking for patterns of behavior, thought and emotion that may have contributed to or instigated their use,” Trolson said. “Then we look at how we can support that student in developing skills and strategies and support systems so they can avoid relapsing again.”

It’s difficult for many people to share their vulnerabilities with others. Adolescents are no exception.

“A lot of that comes from trauma they’ve experienced, and they can have a hard time trusting people,” Trolson said. “It’s up to the staff to earn their trust. It may take a few days; it may take a few months. But over time we see all the students opening up more.”

Discussing one’s recovery is important to maintaining it.

“One of the things we most often have to help students with is, first, identify what they’re feeling,” Trolson said. “Many don’t even have a grasp on what they’re feeling. They know they’re anxious, but can’t say why on any deeper level. Once we can help them figure out those feelings, it’s learning to express them to other people and how to cope with them.”

Another battle is dealing with pop culture’s routine references to illicit substances and society’s normalization of marijuana.

“We get into that a little bit, but our main goal is to help our students be successful in life on their terms,” Trolson said. “We spend a lot of time talking about their values, their goals, what they want and what’s important to them. Then we help them understand how their choices around drugs and alcohol, among other things, are either helping them or keeping them from reaching their goals – and whether their choices are in line with their values.”

This can be another long process for some. It’s often a matter of figuring out how their use affects their values and goals.

“It’s not that they’re immediately successful or won’t ever use again. But their understanding of their drug use begins to change, and they start thinking of making different choices,” Trolson said.

In addition to cultivating recovery, Hope Academy also offers a basic skills curriculum along with Indiana’s Core 40 academic foundation. Those basic skills include learning how to balance a checkbook, write a resume and manage time wisely. It also features college and career exploration, scholarship searches, credit and academic goal-setting and transcript analysis.

Trolson has worked at Hope Academy long enough to witness students rise from the depths of substance abuse to become class leaders who are busy making plans for a bright future.

“It’s amazing to see the transformation that can occur,” he said. “It requires a great deal of patience, because it doesn’t happen overnight. But I would not want to do anything but this.”

If you know a high school student who needs a safe, sober and challenging school experience, visit Hope Academy’s website at www.hopeacademyrhs.org or call 317-572-9440.