(Image from: MTV, 2016)

At first glance, as I walked into Interagency Academy Queen Anne Recovery Campus, it seemed like most high schools. The students had Math, English, and online classes; the campus was full of teenagers sipping iced coffee, studying, laughing, and hanging out.

What’s not so typical? All of the students there are in recovery from a substance use disorder.

Research has demonstrated that, for students, returning to their former environment after treatment is associated with a higher risk of relapse. An anecdotal study even found that almost every student surveyed reported being offered drugs on their first day back at their old school. With rates as high as one-third to one-half of all teenagers relapsing after treatment, recovery high schools are purposefully designed to reduce relapse risk factors.

Interagency Recovery Campus provides an awesome alternative for Seattle teens leaving substance use treatment so that they don’t have to return to the peer group and environment in which they first developed drug and alcohol use disorders. The students can earn a high school degree in a recovery-focused program that prioritizes their mental health. They can benefit from small class sizes, on-site addiction recovery counseling, and a supportive peer group.

I met with Seth Welch, the Recovery Counselor, in his open office. Since Seth’s office doubled as the information desk and the main entrance of the school, throughout our meeting students, popped in, greeting Seth and asking questions. At one point we were even interrupted by a prospective student and their parents touring the school. This setup demonstrated how available the adults and professionals were to the students, and how much the students valued and utilized this openness and support.

During my visit, the touring student and I got to attend the community meeting that happens at the end of each day. We gathered with the students in the main lounge, a warm community space that felt more like a living room than a traditional classroom. We sat on couches, surrounded by recovery posters, student art, and phone numbers. On the board was a list of sobriety meetings happening that night that young Seattlites would be at.

Seth started the meeting, introducing a former student who came back to share her story. Afterward, the students discussed sobriety, their days, and how they were feeling. By the end, it was clear that both the prospective student and I knew we were witnessing something really special.

Currently, Interagency Recovery Campus is the only public recovery school in Seattle, and the school enrolls up to 35 students. Seth and the WRA envision a future where there are more recovery high schools in Seattle so that every adolescent in need can have access to a supportive sober environment. Following the impact of this one school, imagine how many lives a network of recovery campuses across the city could change.

To assist us in this vision, please consider donating to Seattle’s Alternative Peer Group, a group that works closely with the Recovery High School to provide social support to students, or try reaching out to your legislators to let them know you support Recovery High Schools.

Learn More About Interagency Recovery High School:

Seattle Schools Page

Facebook Page

Macklemore visits the Interagency Recovery Highschool

Bridget Condron, 2022