[KHTS] – It’s spring break 2014, and midway through the inaugural semester at Action Academy, the Santa Clarita Valley’s first public sober school, Academy students agree: “Everything’s better” now in their lives.
“At first I was in denial, like I didn’t need the help, but it really helped,” said Toby R, a now-sober 16-year-old junior who had problems with marijuana and alcohol until enrolling at Action Academy.
“It’s different now. Everything’s better,” said Toby, one of two Action Academy 11th-graders AM 1220 KHTS News spoke with last week at the grades 7-12 school in Newhall. We wanted to get a reading on the Academy’s first semester so far – from the students’ point of view.
Toby and classmate Dee R., 17, stepped up to share their experiences, and more highlights of that interview follow (we have changed the students’ names here because they are minors, but they are speaking freely and candidly with their parents’ OK).
But first…a little Action Academy background.
What is Action Academy?
Created as a drug-free school by the Wm. S. Hart Union High School District and the Action Family Foundation, Action Family Counseling’s non-profit wing, Action Academy was designed to be the “missing piece” for SCV students in grades 7-12 who are recovering from addiction to drugs or alcohol, or students who just want a sober environment and the extra support.
The district and Action partners realized teens coming out of a rehab program needed a sober environment at school to continue their recovery as well as their education, without the temptations, peer pressure and other distractions that often lead to relapse into abusing dope or booze or both.
Action Academy opened in late January 2014 in Canyon Country, and has since relocated to larger quarters at Action’s meeting center on Lyons Avenue in Newhall. Classes are in session from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with certified Hart District teacher Kelly Abbott.
She guides the Action Academy students through the “Hart at Home” program, a rigorous Common Core-based online curriculum called Apex that meets the A-G requirements for admission to top University of California schools.
“Hart at Home” allows students to work at their own pace, and Abbott provides lots of one-on-one time to each. By staying sober, the Academy’s students can not only catch up with their studies, but get ahead and graduate early.
After regular school hours, Action’s staff augments and reinforces the students’ continuing recovery through group meetings, one-to-one life coaching, and other supportive activities, such as a weekly HealthRhythm drum circle hosted by Remo.
A dozen clean and sober teens in varying stages of rehab made up the Action Academy student body in January.
Now, in early April, half of them are gone from the program, because they could not stay sober and/or maintain the necessary academic progress.
The remaining half-dozen Action Academy students have bonded tightly, and reinforce each other’s efforts to stay clean and focus on school. These are the teens who are now making good decisions, and thriving in the temptation-free environment, personally and academically.
Spring Break 2014: Action Academy Students Look Back, Ahead
That wasn’t the case just a few months ago, when Action Academy held its first classes.
Toby was a junior at Golden Valley High School last fall when he was caught with marijuana at school. He went through a Hart District drug education program and attended 10 mandatory Action meetings (similar to Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon group meetings, but focused on teens and young adults fighting drug and/or alcohol addiction).
Reasoning he’d get caught if he smoked weed again, Toby started drinking instead. But his parents caught on, drew the line and enrolled him at Action Academy.
“My mom heard about this school because we were still attending Action [parent-teen] meetings on Tuesday nights,” he said. “She read something about this school. She knew I had a problem with alcohol because my parents kept catching me with bottles. So, they really wanted me to come here so I could make the full circle, switch it around.”
Toby’s first day at Action Academy was in February a few weeks after the semester began. But the “Hart at Home” program has allowed him to catch up, and get ahead, he said.
His classmate Dee R. also started the semester a few weeks late but has since caught up. Dee began smoking marijuana as an eighth-grader, and eventually being high started affecting his grades.
“Yeah, it was messing up my schoolwork,” Dee said. “My mom noticed that I would come home and not do homework. I would just go outside, come back, get high and then just go to sleep. So she’d ask me if I had homework, and I’d be like, ‘Nah, had an open day today.’”
Dee was attending Bowman High School last semester when he got into serious trouble.
“I got caught coming to school high,” he said. “[School officials] told me, ‘You either go to Action [Academy] or get kicked out of the district.’ I didn’t want to get kicked out of the district because I wanted to finish school, so I came here to [get] help, and stay sober.”
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