Sunday, January 16, 2011

How Do You Run A Sober High School?

An Interview With Sasha McLean

High school's tough.  For many people it's similar to an endurance test that they must survive to enter adulthood. Now try and imagine what it's like for someone who's trying to get through school and stay sober.  Luckily, not everyone has to because of sober high school's like Archway Academy and it's dedicated director Sasha McLean.

McLean has served as the executive director of Archway for the past year when its previous director, Jim Williams, left to become the Adolescent Program Director at Memorial Herman's Prevention and Recovery Center (PaRC).  Prior to her position at Archway, McLean ran an Alternative Peer Group (APG) called The High Road for The Council on Alcohol and Drugs in Houston.  She says that she would frequently "refer kids to Archway" and she jumped at the opportunity to work for the school as "running a high school allows better hours for my family than working at an APG where there are weekend activities and late night hours."

However, running Archway is not an easy task by any measure.  As executive director she is responsible for any number of things from admissions to discipline to serving as a liaison between the school's collaborative partners (such as Houston's other APGs).

Despite the many different masks that she must wear, McLean still manages to find time to meet one-on-one with all of Archway's 60 or so students.  McLean believes that this is one of the major reasons 90% of Archway graduates end up going on to college.  According to her "(in larger schools) nobody cares enough to help kids with the college admissions process and so they have nobody to help guide them."  And college is obviously very important to her.  This past year marks the third that Archway has held its open college fair in which every director of the 17 U.S. collegiate recovery programs (including both U.T. and Texas Tech) is invited to come.  She believes that it is important for students to see that they can be in recovery and still have the college experience which is a common fear amongst many young people in recovery.  With this kind of support and dedication is it really so surprising that Archway had a 92% sobriety rate last year?

What is surprising though is the lack of issues the school has had with crime and misbehavior in general.  Someone would likely suspect that in a place where 60+ addicts and alcoholics come together every day crime would be rampant.  Archway has proven to be quite the opposite.  On the few occasions that there have been cases of theft or violence the truth has inevitably come out during one of the school wide community meetings.  Instead, McLean said that the "biggest issue with students is dealing with their issues with authority."

Regardless of those issues, it is undeniable that the school has been wildly successful in its mission.  It is currently planning to begin development upon a new campus to serve as an interim for those kids with very little time sober and do not yet meet Archway's 60 days sober admissions requirement.  As George Youngblood (the director of Teen and Family Services which I am a graduate of) puts it "a lot of kids have just one day sober and need to be in school."  This is the issue that the new program, called Passageways, seeks to tackle.  As McLean describes it, Passageways will have "less school, more recovery" than Archway to help kids reach the point at which they can be admitted into Archway.

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