MIDDLETOWN, N.J. — Seventeen-year-old Jesse Musco has been through in-patient treatment twice to fight addiction, so returning to high school worried her.
“I didn’t know if I was going to get caught up with the same people,” Jesse, a junior from the Morganville section of Marlboro, told the Asbury Park Press (http://on.app.com/2FwqGlP).
“If you’re under treatment and you just go back to the same place, the same people, the same things, you’re at a higher risk for relapsing,” said Matawan-Aberdeen Regional Assistant Superintendent Nelyda Perez.
Instead of returning, Jesse is enrolled in a new high school program launched this month by Matawan-Aberdeen Regional and the non-profit partner Right Your Life, which serves youth facing addiction and in recovery. Learn more by watching the video above.
The newly formed K.E.Y.S. (Knowledge Empowers Youth & Sobriety) Academy – which officially opened Thursday in a ceremony at Brookdale Community College – aims to help recovering students such as Jesse.
“With students going through recovery, I think it’s essential to remove them from the original environment,” said Matawan-Aberdeen Superintendent Joseph G. Majka. “I think the odds of relapse are drastically increased if they’re put back into the environment that they came from.”
K.E.Y.S. students meet at Brookdale, where they take high school classes with two teachers and have counselors available, Perez said. The students take math and science, just like students in a traditional high school, and even use the college gym to fulfill their educational requirements, she said.
The assistant superintendent said returning to school after treatment is one of the greatest struggles students with addiction face in their recovery.
“You can go to treatment for 30 days, but the reality is, treatment is ongoing,” Perez said.
Substance use among middle school and high school students has dropped since the late 1990s, yet nearly 36 percent of high school seniors said opioids were “easily available,” according to a 2017 government survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In that same survey, more than 33 percent of high school seniors reported using alcohol in the past month.
“This is everywhere,” said Joseph Ferraina, a member of the board of Right Your Life and former superintendent of Long Branch schools. He noted that addiction crosses all races and economic brackets. “This (substance abuse) goes across the board.”
The New Jersey Department of Education recognized the importance of the issue last year and awarded $1.3 million to K.E.Y.S. through its Recovery High School Access Project grant. The state grant enables K.E.Y.S. to serve students not just in Monmouth County but throughout the region.
Jesse’s parents, Craig and Lori Musco, said the program is helping their daughter envision a new future for her life.
“You can’t go anywhere without education,” said Craig Musco.
Lori Musco, Jesse’s mother, said she was pleased with the small class size, the available counselors and the fact that a school nurse was available on site.
Majka, the Matawan-Aberdeen superintendent, said locating K.E.Y.S. on the Brookdale campus is helping students see a life with new possibilities outside their former high schools.
“Here we’re providing not only academics, but the social and emotional support that they need to meet with success,” he said. “I think being removed from that (former high school) environment is critical to their overall success long term.”
Majka said addiction is a problem not only faced in Monmouth County, but affects nearly every school district in every state across the country.
“It’s something that needs to be taken a look at, uninhibited, through a clear lense, so we can make decisions that are known to help our young adults,” he said.
Information from: Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, http://www.app.com