Columbus may soon open a recovery high school to help kids get clean and educated


INDIANAPOLIS, IN (WCMH) — A high school for addicts–it may sound crazy, but next year, one could be coming to Columbus.

NBC4’s Katie Ferrell recently went to Indianapolis to visit Hope Academy, one of the 40 recovery high schools in the country.

The school looks like any other high school, but every student is struggling with addiction. Instead of being punished for their problem,  kids get support at recovery schools, and tell Katie that for the first time, they no longer feel ashamed.

The first time AJ Stinnett tried drugs was at the bus stop before school. He was in 5th grade.

“My best friend offered it to me and, you know, being 10 years old you kind of want to try everything in the world,” he says.

Feeling like an outcast helped fuel AJ’s habit until he spun out of control.

“Ever since I was in elementary school I got bullied for countless things, never really fit in with anybody,” he says.

AJ ended up in rehab, then came to Hope Academy in Indianapolis.

At this school, students learn more than just math–they’re taught how to be free from the addictions that have held their childhoods hostage.They also attend tuition-free. Students get their vitals taken, they’re drug tested, recovery coaches are as accessible as teachers, and help for a relapse is just a call away.

“They don’t think kids can be drug addicts or have this disease and they do,” says Rachelle Cardner, COO of Hope Academy. “When they go untreated from age 11 to 16, their brains have completely been re-wired now, and it’s going to take special learning and special treatment in order to kind of re-wire that brain.”

Back in Columbus, a group of passionate recovering addicts and frustrated parents are looking to Hope Academy as a model for a future school.

Laurie Elsass’ son is a recovering addict. She says Columbus can’t ignore another suffering child.

“Had we had a recovery high school back in 2011, I think my son’s journey would have been completely different from what it is right now,” she says.

On June 8, the Columbus Recovery High School Initiative unveils the future Columbus school’s name and website. People in the initiative still have not decided whether it will be a private or a charter school, but the goal is to open by the fall of next year.

“It will happen,” Elsass says, choking up. “I’m a mad and frustrated mama bear and let me tell you…I’m going to see it through, I’m going to see it through.”

Hope Academy says its model works, citing that 95 percent of graduates have gone on to college, and touting kids like AJ as proof.

At 16, he’s been clean for two and a half years, and feels like he finally belongs.

“I have friends that don’t care about my past,” he says. “They care about what I’m doing now.”

He graduates this year, a year early, and has plans to join the Peace Corps. He says Hope Academy is the reason he’s alive.

“It saved my life,” he says.

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