Anchor Learning Academy – A Sober Space for Students to Grow

Posted: Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A young person’s high school years can be arduous, but for students dealing with a substance use disorder, academic success can be all but impossible. TPC’s Anchor Learning Academy (ALA) is Rhode Island’s first recovery high school, and combines a rigorous academic curriculum with clinical recovery services to give students a safe, supportive, substance-free environment where they can succeed.

Since ALA was launched in 2012, student needs for long term success have been the driver behind classroom innovation and staff development. Chris Mahon is the head coordinator and English teacher at ALA. “Instead of punitive actions like suspensions that may have failed in the past, we’ve moved toward much more mediation and conflict resolution,” said Mahon. 

“We’ve recently brought in a case manager with the goal of helping us track students that have transitioned back to their districts or graduated, and making sure they are following up on opportunities,” said Mahon. “For students who weren’t successful in recovery, we’ll try to look at the reasons why and see if they’re interested in returning.”

Thanks to the support of our state leaders the RI Recovery High Schools Act was amended during the 2016 legislative session to provide state funding and ease of access to enrollment for recovery high schools in Rhode Island. Another development was bringing on Mike Esposito, ALA’s recovery clinician. He has helped to add a community element, bringing in college students from Johnson and Wales and New England Tech to present on topics like nutrition and wellness, and setting up opportunities for students to volunteer at places like WaterFire, soup kitchens and local businesses.

Esposito also organizes group outings for the students to unwind after school. “We’ll go out to get dinner and play some games,” said Esposito. “We think it’s important to show that you can have a good time socially with your peers while remaining sober.”

“Many of our students come to us not considering college as an option for their future,” said Mahon. We encourage them to take advantage of resources like Community College of Rhode Island and the University of Rhode Island and try to help them build a career they’re interested in, instead of just taking a job.”

In the coming year, The Providence Center hopes to open a teen recovery center modeled after Anchor Recovery Center, where ALA students can spend time with their peers and build their sober identities outside of school.

To find out more about ALA, please call (401) 432-7279 or email principal Celine Johnson at cjohnson@provctr.org.

Pictured: Chris Mahon and an ALA student

By the Numbers:

Between 2013 and 2016, every student enrolled used some type of substance at least 3x per week before coming ALA.

For students enrolled at ALA for more than three months:

  • Average student attendance for one semester increased by 20% to 86%
  • Average student GPA for one semester increased 90%
  • Graduates enrolled in higher education or employed full-time soared to 80%
  • Student involvement with juvenile justice decreased by 63%