The Center for Responsibility and Justice held a Knowledge Café event hosted by Dr. Eric Severson in Munro Parlor on Tuesday, March 12. Michelle Lipinski, principal of Northshore Recovery High School and the evening’s primary speaker, focused on how students struggling with issues like drug abuse are often not given the help they need in public schools.
Lipinski worked at several public high schools before Recovery High, and she believes that most students labeled as “bad” are actually suffering from issues such as mental illness or trouble at home. And, as Lipinski sees it, the public education system does not help resolve these problems.
According to the Northshore Education Consortium’s website, “Northshore Recovery High School (NSRHS) is designed to meet the needs of high school students who have had a history of substance abuse but who have made a firm commitment to recovery. Funded by the State Department of Public Health and local school districts, NSRHS provides students a high school environment free from the culture of drugs and alcohol.”
On Tuesday, Lipinski brought three current Recovery High students to ENC. The three students—Ally, Andrew, and Taylor—shared stories of how addiction has affected their lives and how the education system did nothing to help them.
Ally, who used anxiety pills and had behavioral problems, said, “I would go to school and do all these things that were obviously a cry for help and no one ever noticed. No one ever talked to me. No one cared.”
Lipinski explained that at public high schools teachers are told to keep a certain distance from students. Because of this, students like Ally who struggle with addictions and behavioral problems can often be ignored, and may not get the help they need.
Fortunately, help finally came for Ally in the form of Recovery High.
From her time working in public high schools, Lipinski knew that something must be done differently to reach out to struggling students. As principal of Recovery High, Lipinski replaced the zero-tolerance policy enforced at other high schools with a more accepting approach.
Although the students at Recovery High genuinely want to stop their substance abuse, teachers at Recovery High understand that this is not an easy thing to do. Lipinski doesn’t punish her students for relapsing or for having substances at school. She takes a hands-on approach—such as going on walks with students to talk about their struggles. And, if the students she brought with her on Tuesday night are any indication, it works.
Each of the three students that Lipinski brought to the event shared their initial skepticism about attending Recovery High. At their previous high schools, they had received little support, so they wondered why this school would be any different. But in reality, Recovery High changed everything.
“Recovery High saved my life. I finally feel like I am the person I am supposed to be,” said Ally.
Lipinski’s hands-on approach and genuine love for her students makes for a supportive environment where students are encouraged to work hard, stay sober, and finally take control of their lives.
“I’m inspired by [Lipinski’s] outlook and passion to help these students, and I’m inspired by their stories. Recovery High and [the students’] experience is something I’d like to see brought back to my hometown and then to my entire state. Education needs to change,” said ENC senior Heather Pardi.