CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — High school students recovering from addiction could have a new way to stay on track with their studies.

Hope Academy is a regional recovery program that will enroll high school students from all around the region. It’s a partnership with Chesterfield County Public Schools and the Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

Kelly Fried, the executive director of Chesterfield County’s Mental Health Support Services, said Hope Academy will support high schoolers after completing their addiction treatment and during their recovery journey.

The program will accommodate up to 25 students and will offer group counseling sessions during the school day.

“This school keeps those students separate from the general education students, so they can work on their recovery and continue in their recovery and not be subject to those negative influences,” she said.

Fried said the funding needed to implement the program is two-pronged. One part of the money is for educational purposes and — because Hope Academy is a regional school — is subject to the General Assembly’s budget approval. The other part will allocate $300,000 to the county’s Department of Behavioral Health ad Developmental Services to pay for five staff positions.

Fried said three full-time clinicians, one part-time recovery specialist and one part-time family support partner are tapped for the school so far.

She added that funding for this initiative was secured a few years ago by Chesterfield County Public Schools superintendent Merv Daugherty. But some of that money had to be reallocated because of the pandemic.

The location for the school is yet to be determined, but Fried said one of the admissions criteria is what types of treatment students received in the past.

“This is to ensure that they’re really serious about working on their addiction issues,” she said.

Students have to have not been using substances for at least 30 days to be considered for enroll in the program.

Kerri Rhodes said her son died in 2019 after relapsing.

In high school, he was prescribed medicine after surgery was performed on his shoulder.

“He would later tell us that when he took those opioids his brain felt normal for the first time,” she said.

Her son graduated from Patrick Henry High School and then started college at N.C State University. That’s when he began addiction treatment, but his recovery was cut short one month after completing the addiction treatment.

“He relapsed and what he had had fentanyl in it,” said Rhodes. “They’re not protected like other students with a disability. I mean, we know addiction is a brain disease but it’s not treated like a brain disease.”

She believes a high school recovery program like Hope Academy — that can fill in the gaps between addiction treatment and recovery — could have saved her son’s life.

“I really wonder what his recovery would have looked like if he would have had access to consistent recovery throughout his high school experience because that is what he didn’t have,” she said.

Tucker Wrenn, a peer recovery specialist in the Richmond area who previously struggled with drug addiction in high school, said high school aged students are trying to fit in or aren’t aware of the longterm consequences.

“It’s no longer just smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol,” he said. “We’re seeing Xanax, heroine and all that stuff creeping into high schools now,” he said.

Wrenn is four years clean and mentors young adults ages 18 to 20. He said he hopes this pilot program can truly transform those students lives.

“To me, it’s a game changer. It eliminates the whole going to treatment, coming back and being around the same people, places and things,” he said.

Fried said this type of school will be the first of its kind in Virginia. She said they’re also looking to get the school accredited when the time comes.

Hope Academy is scheduled to open in August 2022.