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Seattle’s Recovery High School offers hope to addicted teens

Lawmakers are working out a deal that could help thousands in Washington state graduate . (AP)

The students of what’s likely Seattle’s smallest graduating high school class will receive their diplomas Thursday afternoon.

But for the eight students donning the cap and gown at Seattle’s Recovery High School, it’s an achievement that seemed unlikely or impossible just a short time ago after struggles with drug and alcohol addiction threatened to derail their young lives.

It’s hard to know exactly how widespread the problem is, because most teens won’t disclose their use until it causes problems, and many parents have no idea what their kids are actually up to when they leave the house, says Seth Welch, a certified chemical dependency counselor and coach at the Recovery High School.

“The amount of young people and teens that are at least getting high and getting at least a little drunk on weekends is pretty substantial, and then you’ve got a whole another group that we’re trying to affect change with that are using much more frequently, if not daily,” Welch said.

Peer pressure and the widespread availability of drugs and alcohol have always played a part in teen addiction issues. But Welch says it’s far more prevalent, with even heroin easily accessible in local schools on a regular basis.

While traditional high schools have offered some kind of counseling that can get kids to inpatient treatment, Welch says failure happens far too often for those kids when they return to their old setting, where drugs, alcohol, friends that use and peer pressure make long term sobriety difficult if not virtually impossible.

The Recovery High School is one of several dozen specialized programs around the country that combine academics and chemical dependency counseling and life skills training.

Just two-and-a-half years old, what started with just one student has grown to several dozen.

“This alternative environment provides something that’s extremely unique and it actually, from what the kids say and what we can see, it makes recovery accessible, realistic, attractive and actually cool,” Welch said.

The school offers both in-person and online classes, allowing students to work at their own pace, catch up, and actually move forward.

A number have come from the depths of addiction, living on the streets, shooting dope under a bridge, committing crimes to support their habits. All before they’re even old enough to drive.

“What I didn’t know as a kid was that I could have a great group of friends, have the fun that I wanted and be on good terms with my parents and be doing good in school. It was always one or the other,” Welch said.

Welch says they’re seeing tremendous success, with at least six of the kids graduating this week accumulating over a year of sobriety while earning their diplomas.

And he says the school is even beginning to attract a few younger students who simply don’t want to be in an environment where you can buy anything from pot to heroin before homeroom, and you can be ostracized simply for saying now.

His hope is to spread the word about the little-known program, offering the possibility of recovery and a better life for young people and their families alike.

We could easily serve upwards of 40 to 50 kids, which still seems fairly small. But as soon as we hit that, then we’ll open another one. They should and they will be popping up all over the place. We should lead the way in this movement, especially when it regards the lives of our young people.”

You can learn more about the Recovery High School online or by contacting Welch directly at 206-947-1532.

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