Two Lakeside-area nonprofits are partnering to create what is believed to be the first recovery high school in Virginia.
The McShin Academy will be a joint effort of the McShin Foundation (a recovery community organization based at Hatcher Memorial Baptist Church in Lakeside) and St. Joseph’s Villa (a 183-year-old nonprofit on Brook Road that provides a variety of services for children with special needs).
The academy will provide a focused learning environment for students who have drug or alcohol addictions, while also providing them daily interaction with McShin’s recovery specialists, who will address their addictions. It is prepared to enroll as many as 50 students initially and could expand to accommodate more if the need exists.
The McShin Foundation has operated its academy for the past two years inside its location at Hatcher, serving 12 students the first year and 13 last year, according to its CEO, Honesty Liller. Most heard about it through word of mouth. The academy is based upon a similar recovery school – the Archway Academy – in Texas, which Liller and other McShin officials visited several years ago.
The idea for a partnership between McShin and St. Joseph’s Villa grew from a conversation between McShin co-founder John Shinholser and Villa Director of Community Partnerships Craig Hedley. The Villa already operates four separate schools on its campus that address specific academic and behavioral needs.
Locating the academy there – in its own building – will create many more opportunities for students in need, Liller said.
“We’re going to be able to help this community even 10 times more,” she said. “This is such a loving environment. [Students] are not going to school because they have to – they’re going because they want to, and they’re going to learn so many life skills that regular schools aren’t going to teach them.”
The timing for the move was right, Liller said, because most of the students the academy served previously either had graduated or returned to their previous schools because they’d made strong progress.
The McShin Foundation has contributed $100,000 to the academy, and St. Joseph’s Villa has hired a full-time teacher, according to St. Joseph’s Villa spokesman Drew Melson. Enrollment is open now, and officials plan to start classes as soon as they register an initial group of students.
The cost of tuition – $16,000 annually – is significantly more than McShin has been charging for the academy during its first two years, Liller said, though she doesn’t expect that it will diminish interest.
“If a child is struggling with addiction, their family is going to do whatever they can to save their life,” she said. “The value of what they’re getting is a lot more valuable than being incarcerated, or God forbid, death.”
Liller herself knows the value of such an academy. She began using drugs at 12, heroin at 17. Now, years removed from those struggles, she is hopeful that the McShin Academy can reach students who are facing similar demons today.
“Lives literally are changing right in front of us,” she said of the academy’s first two years. Students “just blossom right in front of you. To see them grow not only in their recovery but to see them helping others. . . It is about making a change in your community.”
Some students who participated in the academy during its first two years came from public schools, while others were not enrolled in school because they had been expelled or had dropped out, Liller said. Peer pressure and other factors at larger schools can make recovery difficult for students who want to overcome their addictions, she said.
“Some [academy] students just wanted to leave those environments – their drug dealer was sitting next to them [in class],” she said.
McShin officials will conduct initial screenings with applicants to ensure that they have drug or alcohol dependency issues, then work jointly with St. Joseph’s Villa officials to make enrollment decisions.
The school is expected to operate weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Liller said. Students will be responsible for their own transportation and will be able to spend additional time in the afternoons and evenings at McShin’s location at Hatcher, if necessary.
The academy is open to students from all jurisdictions, Liller said. The McShin Foundation will offer some scholarship money to interested and eligible students.
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For details, visit http://mcshinacademy.com or call the McShin Foundation at 249-1845 or the St. Joseph’s Villa admissions office at 553-3241.