Education plus treatment equals best recovery opportunity

Classes don’t end when residential treatment begins

Cindy Kelly
Cindy Kelly gets ready for the day in her classroom at the Rosecrance School. Each of the seven classrooms offers a view of the Healing Garden.

Say you’re a parent who is dealing with the revelation that your teenager needs treatment for substance abuse. That alone can be devastating for both parents and teens, especially if the teenager is nose-diving in school – a common symptom of substance abuse.

So on top of the medical and psychological worries, you wonder: Wouldn’t taking my child out of school for residential treatment just make things worse or set him even further behind?

Managers at the Rosecrance Griffin Williamson Campus, a premier substance abuse treatment facility just 90 minutes from downtown Chicago, are way ahead on that front: They created the Rosecrance School, a unique program at the adolescent center, to make sure that teenagers in treatment not only don’t fall behind but are able to keep up with their schoolwork and, in many cases, succeed in ways they haven’t before.

The Rosecrance School allows teens to continue meeting educational requirements of their home school districts at the same time they are receiving the therapeutic care they need.

“We know how important academic success is to recovery,” says Jason Gorham, administrator at the 78-bed adolescent treatment campus in Rockford. “We could not let concern over educational progress keep families from reaching out for help at a critical time for their teens.”

The seven-classroom Rosecrance School is staffed by six state-certified teachers and an art therapist. The school occupies a first-floor wing at the Rosecrance facility, in Rockford.

At first glance, the school looks like a typical cluster of classrooms in a typical modern, well-maintained high school. Computers are equipped with computers and the usual array of maps and blackboards and neat rows of desks. Each classroom has a wall of windows that affords a view of the 7-acre Rosecrance Healing Garden.

The differences are that classes are separated by gender and students in the same classroom may range in age from 12 to 18. Each one is working on his or her individual program of study assigned by the home school district.

“Treatment comes first, but education is a close second,” says Gorham. “Students need to know how to cope in a school environment.  If they don’t know how to adapt, they could go back to old habits.”

The school is one feature that helps distinguish Rosecrance as one of the best adolescent treatment programs in the nation.

Students at the Griffin Williamson Campus follow the Rockford School District calendar, as the teachers are employed by the district. Students in residential treatment attend class four hours daily, and their core curriculum is enhanced with art, music, horticulture, recreation and fitness and life skills classes.

Lead teacher Cindy Kelly briefly taught at area public high schools before being assigned to the Rosecrance School 25 years ago. She holds a master’s degree in education and degrees in special education behavior and emotional disorders. Her style blends education and encouragement.

“I try to plant the seed and the desire to learn within each kid,” Kelly says. “I let them know they are important and they are worthwhile, no matter what they have done in the past. I tell them: ‘You made bad choices, but you aren’t a bad kid. You have to change your choices.’  Hopefully, here at Rosecrance, they will learn how.”

Teachers at the school campus work with educators and counselors in the students’ home schools to coordinate lessons, and regular progress reports are provided. Classes have a maximum of 14 students.

Usually, each student in the group is working on something different, as they are at various grade levels, come from up to 14 different school districts and have different personal and educational needs. Students in advanced courses can receive tutoring provided by a nearby university.

Students earn credits at their home school districts for work completed while in treatment. If they are behind in their schoolwork, they may be guided through online courses for credit recovery in order to catch up. Students typically spend about six weeks in treatment.

Teachers at the Rosecrance School also work in concert with clinical staff, whose focus is meeting the therapeutic needs of each patient in treatment. After they complete treatment, students are linked with follow-up care in their home communities.

“Our goal is to provide the highest standard of care using best practices and evidence-based programs to address substance abuse and offer each teen the best opportunity for lasting recovery,” Gorham said.

Rosecrance is committed to offering programs that utilize the best available scientific research and methods in the industry.

Rules are rules at Rosecrance – students can’t skip classes, and they can’t be tardy. But, according to Kelly and Gorham, discipline isn’t a problem. For most students, achievement at the Rosecrance School represents the most success they have had in a long time.

“Usually, they come in very resistant, not wanting to be here,” Kelly says, “but by the time they leave, the tears are coming, and they don’t want to leave. Later, you get the call or the card saying ‘thank you,’ or you receive a graduation announcement.

“That’s your payoff. The success stories.”

Rosecrance offers services at six offices in Chicagoland, including free, confidential evaluations. For more information about Rosecrance or to make an appointment for an assessment, call (866) 330-8729 or visit Life’s waiting.