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KEYS Academy opens to help students with addiction

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In an effort to open new doors for students who battle addiction, a new high school was created in Lincroft by local educational and non-profit organizations.

The Knowledge Empowers Youth and Sobriety (KEYS) Academy Recovery High School is the result of a collaborative partnership between the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District, Brookdale Community College and the non-profit organization Right Your Life.

More than 80 officials and citizens attended the school’s ribbon cutting ceremony on Jan. 11 at the school’s classroom, which is housed at Brookdale Community College’s Bankier Library Room.

Among the officials who were in attendance were Lt. Gov. Kimberly Guadagno, Matawan-Aberdeen Regional District Superintendent of Schools Joseph Majka, Right Your Life President Kathleen Loures, interim Brookdale President David Stout and Student Assistance Counselor and KEYS Academy Coordinator Jennise Nieves.

Also present were the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, members of the New Jersey Department of Education, the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional District’s Board of Education members, the Right Your Life Board of Directors and Brookdale’s Board of Trustees.   

The mission of KEYS Academy is to provide an academically innovative and supportive environment which will serve to eliminate the achievement gap for adolescents who have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder and are seeking a sober, healthy lifestyle, according to information provided by the district.

Loures said that any student from any county is eligible to attend the school. The student can be recommended to attend by his/her school officials, a family member or a counselor. There is an interview and intake process that each student will have to go through.

“Not only is it providing academics, it’s providing social emotional support in a caring environment. So you are getting both the academics and the social emotional support, because I think it’s essential that while a student is going through recovery that they are removed from the environment that they were in. This is an opportunity to do that, which I think will lead to success,” Majka said.

The school was funded through Gov. Chris Christie’s opioid legislation. The district applied for a grant, which it received from the state through the Department of Education for $1.3 million, according to Majka.

“There are a lot of programs to help kids, but there are no programs like the one that you are developing here that is clearly designed to focus on the child himself or herself, her potential or his potential, what they want to do and how they want to do it, in a way they want to do it, and to do it sober. I congratulate all of you. I’m proud to be a part of it and I hope I can stay a part of it,” Guadagno said. 

The school officially opened on Jan. 2 with 18 students. The school also has teachers, counselors and a nurse, according to Majka.

Already, the administrators are looking to expand from its one classroom.

“We are working with Brookdale on another building here that needs to be renovated, where we can house many more students,” Majka said.

The Right Your Life officials first approached the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District during the summer of 2015 about starting a school such as the KEYS Academy, according to Loures. Right Your Life was created in 2010.

“In 2010, we started doing 5K runs as a non-profit to support [and] offset the costs of recovery for youth. What we did is that we useD to give out money to other organizations working with youth,” Loures explained about her organization. “In 2013, we officially became Right Your Life. We have a recovery center in Matawan and that opened in late 2016.”

Loures revealed her organization’s passion to help students with addiction.

“We approached Matawan-Aberdeen Regional because our board is made up of education people, and talked amongst ourselves and said what programs work, and what about a recovery high school? If you don’t have children getting out of high school without some sort of treatment before they leave high school you are going to lose them – they are going to die,” Loures said.

Loures said that they found an interested partner in Matawan-Aberdeen.

“When we talked about a recovery high school, Matawan, we went to them and they said absolutely, not a question. They had a person Jennise Nieves who had long been wanting to open a recovery high school, so she was the perfect person to take on that project.”

After the organization approached the school district with its intentions, together they formed the recovery high school partnership and collectively they both approached the college about creating KEYS Academy, according to Loures.

The goal for the school is to help as many young people struggling with substance use receive the support they need prior to graduating high school, according to Loures.

“Our hope is that schools across the state begin to see the value in helping our youth heal. We want to create an environment that helps student to see that they can have a future that is different than their past,” Loures said.
A parent and a practicing nurse named Kim said that she as been a nurse for 23 years and has a son who battles with sobriety. Kim chose to use only her first name to protect her son’s identity.
Once her son was released from his recovery program, Kim said, “My biggest fear was how can he go back to school? What will happen in two months? What will happen in three weeks? Because I knew that the same environment that caused this is probably going to cause a relapse. Programs like this are so important to save lives, so that is what we are doing here. We are saving lives and we are giving our kids a future and hope.”

For more information about the KEYS Academy, visit www.rightyourlife.org/keys-academy–recovery-high-school.html.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.

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