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New high school in Lake Oswego aims to help students recovering from drug, alcohol addiction

Harmony Academy is the first recovery school to open in Oregon.

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. — A new high school opening in Lake Oswego will give students recovering from drug and alcohol addiction a better chance at pursuing their dreams of getting their high school diploma.

"When you look at the innocence of adolescents who are experiencing substance use disorder and their access to robust, sustainable continuum of care, Oregon ranks at the bottom of the 50 states," said Tony Mann, the superintendent of the Molalla River School District and the Board Chair of Harmony Academy.

Mann founded Harmony Academy. It's taken three years of planning to get the first recovery school in Oregon to open.

"This is open to any student in the region and our commitment is to make it a comfortable school. A place where kids can identify, regardless of what their experiences have been over time, that this is a safe place for any student in recovery," he said.

Mann said that a student going back to their original high school within 30 days of recovery is 70% more likely to relapse within the first six months to a year. The opposite happens if they attend a recovery school like Harmony, he said.

"To shift that to this vision that life can be fun, life can be meaningful without a substance on board, that's where a recovery high school creates that positive peer culture where kids visualize for themselves... being successful socially, academically and emotionally," Mann said.

The school will start with 10 students, but more are in the process of enrolling. Principal Sharon Dursi Martin said the school can hold around 50 students.

"Now that we understand the disease and we understand how people recover from it, I think we owe it to students to give them that chance," Dursi Martin said.

It's a chance she wishes she had when she was a teen. At the age of 13 during a D.A.R.E. assembly, an officer talked about the effects of drugs and why you shouldn't take them. It had the opposite effect for her. 

"I was really kind of miserable, there was a lot of stuff going on at home that was really hard to deal with and I was kind of alienated at school," she said. "I remember thinking, thank God there's a solution to all my problems I'm having. It's not what anyone intended, but it's how I felt then and I recognize that with some of the young people I'm talking to now, they've used substances as a solution to their problems and that is a short-term cure at best."

Harmony will use both traditional teaching methods, but also offer recovery treatment. Every day, students will check in with a recovery coach before starting school. 

"That person's job is to figure out any recovery related things that might be an obstacle to learning that day," said Mann. "Their goal is to get students into the classroom and learning and achieving. But if that student needs some time and connections to outside therapy or to anything else that would help them, the recovery coach is supporting that."

The academy is open to any freshman through senior student living in Multnomah, Washington or Clackamas county.

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