VIRGINIA BEACH — The Virginia Beach School Board has agreed to “explore the possibility” of a program for students struggling with substance abuse.
“Recovery schools must create a learning environment where students can receive an excellent education while gaining support for recovery,” said Robert Jamison, executive director of student support services.
The high school program would provide a “fresh start” for students who wish to focus on their recovery while progressing towards graduation. Students would not be sent to the program as a disciplinary measure and should be prepared to “actively participate in their education as well as their recovery process,” Jamison said.
Counselors and resources would be available for students and their families.
For board member Carolyn Weems, this is a personal business. His daughter, Caitlyn, died of an overdose almost ten years ago. She was 21 years old.
As a teenager, she had been an avid soccer player. However, she became addicted to opioids after being injured and was prescribed narcotic painkillers. Weems said once she and her family found out about Caitlyn’s addiction, they were “completely overwhelmed” and didn’t know where to get help.
“If Caitlyn had had that opportunity…I think she definitely would have had a much better chance to fight,” Weems said.
Since Caitlyn’s death, Weems started a non-profit organization, Caitlyn’s Halo, to promote awareness, education, and treatment for opioid addiction. She has also worked to promote opioid education in schools. Now, she hopes a recovery high school in Virginia Beach will help students and families.
[ Virginia Beach’s opioid education could soon be model for schools across Virginia ]
Weems said she hopes everyone sees the need for a program to help students — and their families — recover while maintaining academic rigor, because her family isn’t the only one in Virginia Beach to be affected by addiction and overdoses.
“I don’t want someone else’s ending to end like ours, because it’s horrible,” Weems said.
She and several trustees have begun laying the groundwork to move forward with this initiative if the board gives the go-ahead. The group reviewed potential sites, researched grant opportunities, and visited another recovery high school in New Jersey. Potential community partnerships would help with case management, individual and group counselling, family education groups and more.
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Matthew Delaney, Senior Executive Director of Secondary Schools, shared data from the last school year, noting that 485 alcohol and/or drug offenses were dealt with in secondary schools. Over 300 students have been assigned to the Substance Abuse Intervention Program, a 10-day program for first-time offenders that is offered “in lieu” of a long-term suspension. Delaney added that this data “only captures violations that schools are aware of.”
These discussions took place just weeks before the Commonwealth’s first full-time recovery high school opened in Chesterfield. According to the Association of Recovery Schools, there are more than 40 nationwide.
The Chesterfield Recovery Academy is expected to cost more than $860,000, according to a Chesterfield County Public Schools presentation on June 21.
If Virginia Beach ultimately decides to go ahead with its own program, Jamison said it would likely cost less than the Chesterfield program and the team would seek grants to support the initiative.
Board members still had questions about the program regarding location, eligibility, staffing, costs and more. Jamison and Delaney said they can start collecting more of this information now that they have obtained board approval to do so.
More information should be ready to present to the board in the fall. This presentation will likely include possible site locations and funding sources for the recovery school.
Kelsey Kendall, [email protected]