Interview with Michelle Muffett-Lipinski on Recovery Schools

In advance of our September 27th webinar, “Implementing Adolescent Recovery Supports & Developing Resources in Our Communities,” we sat down with Michelle Muffett-Lipinski, Principal of the Northshore Recovery High School to discuss recovery programming in schools and communities.
RECLAIMING FUTURES: What is a recovery school? How does it differ from a traditional school?
MICHELLE MUFFETT-LIPINSKI: When I speak about 'what is a Recovery High School,' I prefer to speak only about my experience creating and managing the Northshore Recovery High School. At my school, students are in all phases of adolescent recovery. All students attending Northshore Recovery High School have a DSM IV diagnosis of a substance use disorder which can include abuse or dependence or both. All students attending Northshore Recovery High School come willingly and understand they need the additional support we offer at the school to help keep them sober, make better decisions and eventually graduate high school.
Staff at NSRHS work closely with students' constituents. A typical enrolled student is involved with multiple agencies. We work closely with probation, mental and behavioral health, treatment and community supports to enhance student safety and improve positive outcomes.
We are a small community of about 70 students. We are funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and a tuition for each student from the sending school
district. At the foundation of our school is honesty, integrity, restorative practices, accountability and service. Students attend all core classes and electives as enrolled in a typical high school. However, we also facilitate daily groups, ever evolving goal setting, contracts, and on-site drug testing.
RF: What is recovery programming and how does it fit into your school’s curriculum and culture?

MML: Students in my school are exposed to multiple pathways to recovery. We understand the limitations to developing a "one size fits all" approach to adolescent recovery. During our daily groups, students will be exposed to the core wellness competencies as outlined by the United States Department of Education. The culture of our school supports sobriety. If students are using, they are encouraged to speak with staff about their needs to attain sobriety. If they are unable to do this, staff add more supports. Students encourage others to get the treatment they need to stay safe. Peers are trained to help others who may need the support.
RF: What has been the community response to your Recovery High School?
MML: Initially, the community response was indifferent. We were met with mixed emotions. For those who understand addiction and adolescent development, they have been overwhelmingly supportive. Since we have been around for seven years, we have definitely increased community supports. We work with a diverse group of community members. There are even a few school districts beginning to understand the need for a Recovery High School.
RF: So, do Recovery Schools work?
MML: Define work? This is almost as challenging as defining success. THIS school works because we work with students throughout their relapses and realize the limitations to adolescent recovery. We understand
addiction is a disease and we are working with children. In some cases, this could be a recipe for disaster. In our school, this is a recipe for hope and transformation.
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Liz Wu is a Digital Accounts Manager at Prichard Communications, where she oversees digital outreach for Reclaiming Futures and edits Reclaiming Futures Every Day. Before joining the Prichard team, Liz established the West Coast communications presence for the New America Foundation, where she managed all media relations, event planning and social media outreach for their 6 domestic policy programs. Liz received a B.A. in both Peace and Conflict Studies and German from the University of California at Berkeley. She tweets from @LizSF.

Updated: September 25 2012