Hope Academy providing education to teenage addicts as they recover

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Nestled on the second floor of Fairbanks Hospital is a special high school.

Roughly 40 students attend every day, taking algebra and other core classes, but there's a catch. All of these students suffer from substance abuse problems.

Hope Academy is Indiana's only recovery high school, and it's one of only a handful nationwide.

Students attend class alongside other teenage addicts, but as they work towards their high school diplomas, they're going through recovery.

"When we ask our kids 'where did you struggle prior to coming here,' it was in school," said Hope Academy's C.O.O Rachelle Gardner. For 11 years, Hope Academy has serviced more than 600 students on the road to sobriety.

"This gives them an environment where they're all on the same page," Gardner added, "they're all struggling with the same thing and they're all supporting each other trying to stay clean and sober."

Gardner says most people aren't aware Hope Academy exists. Teenagers are referred from other treatment programs or schools. They are interviewed by the principal and recovery counselor to see if Hope Academy is a good "fit."

What many people don't know is that Hope Academy is a tuition-free public charter school. It receives the same per-student stipend as other public schools, but then raises money to cover the roughly $8,000 gap to provide recovery programs.

AJ will graduate from Hope Academy this spring. He came in as a reluctant freshman who thought he would only spend one semester at the school. Three years later, AJ is graduating early, with a newfound appreciate for his experience at Hope.

"There's nothing different about being here except for the atmosphere and the family," AJ, like other students, refers to his classmates like a family. He started using drugs at a young age, but said he decided to stay at Hope Academy because of the atmosphere it provided.

Fellow Hope Academy classmate, Logan, attended several other central Indiana high schools before she was referred over. She'd been doing drugs for several years, but said she finally felt supported when she started attending class at Hope Academy.

"I believe it's a great opportunity and it'll really help," said Logan, "I know a lot of people come and they don't want to stay but they end up benefiting a lot from it."

Eighteen-year-old Ian will also graduate this spring with hopes of attending Purdue University to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. He's been clean and sober for one year, but it wasn't an easy path.

Ian said drugs and alcohol were easily accessible in his large Indiana public high school. But, unlike some of his classmates, Ian made the decision to get clean. He went into treatment and was ultimately referred to a recovery high school to finish his education.

"Coming here gives you the opportunity to be held accountable and stay clean. It's just a great place to come and connect with others," said Ian.

Ian will speak at the school's annual "Taste of Hope" fundraiser Sunday. His story is inspiration for other teenagers and families looking for long term recovery and treatment.

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