Spring Break 2014: KHTS talks with Action Academy high school students about attending the first semester at the Santa Clarita Valley’s first drug-free ‘sober school’
It’s spring break 2014, and midway through the inaugural semester at Action Academy, the Santa Clarita Valley’s first public sober school, Academy students agree: “Everything’s better” now in their lives.
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“At first I was in denial, like I didn’t need the help, but it really helped,” said Toby R, a now-sober 16-year-old junior who had problems with marijuana and alcohol until enrolling at Action Academy.
“It’s different now. Everything’s better,” said Toby, one of two Action Academy 11th-graders AM 1220 KHTS News spoke with last week at the grades 7-12 school in Newhall. We wanted to get a reading on the Academy’s first semester so far – from the students’ point of view.
Toby and classmate Dee R., 17, stepped up to share their experiences, and more highlights of that interview follow (we have changed the students’ names here because they are minors, but they are speaking freely and candidly with their parents’ OK).
But first…a little Action Academy background.
What is Action Academy?
Created as a drug-free school by the Wm. S. Hart Union High School District and the Action Family Foundation, Action Family Counseling’s non-profit wing, Action Academy was designed to be the “missing piece” for SCV students in grades 7-12 who are recovering from addiction to drugs or alcohol, or students who just want a sober environment and the extra support.
The district and Action partners realized teens coming out of a rehab program needed a sober environment at school to continue their recovery as well as their education, without the temptations, peer pressure and other distractions that often lead to relapse into abusing dope or booze or both.
Action Academy opened in late January 2014 in Canyon Country, and has since relocated to larger quarters at Action’s meeting center on Lyons Avenue in Newhall. Classes are in session from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with certified Hart District teacher Kelly Abbott.
A preview of Action’s weekly “Families in Action” program for Monday, April 7, from noon to 1 p.m. on AM 1220 KHTS in Santa Clarita.
She guides the Action Academy students through the “Hart at Home” program, a rigorous Common Core-based online curriculum called Apex that meets the A-G requirements for admission to top University of California schools.
“Hart at Home” allows students to work at their own pace, and Abbott provides lots of one-on-one time to each. By staying sober, the Academy’s students can not only catch up with their studies, but get ahead and graduate early.
RELATED: Watch AM 1220 KHTS News’ Interview with Action Academy’s Cary Quashen, Bob Sharits and Alex Urbina
After regular school hours, Action’s staff augments and reinforces the students’ continuing recovery through group meetings, one-to-one life coaching, and other supportive activities, such as a weekly HealthRhythm drum circle hosted by Remo.
A dozen clean and sober teens in varying stages of rehab made up the Action Academy student body in January.
Now, in early April, half of them are gone from the program, because they could not stay sober and/or maintain the necessary academic progress.
The remaining half-dozen Action Academy students have bonded tightly, and reinforce each other’s efforts to stay clean and focus on school. These are the teens who are now making good decisions, and thriving in the temptation-free environment, personally and academically.
Spring Break 2014: Action Academy Students Look Back, Ahead
That wasn’t the case just a few months ago, when Action Academy held its first classes.
Toby was a junior at Golden Valley High School last fall when he was caught with marijuana at school. He went through a Hart District drug education program and attended 10 mandatory Action meetings (similar to Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon group meetings, but focused on teens and young adults fighting drug and/or alcohol addiction).
Reasoning he’d get caught if he smoked weed again, Toby started drinking instead. But his parents caught on, drew the line and enrolled him at Action Academy.
“My mom heard about this school because we were still attending Action [parent-teen] meetings on Tuesday nights,” he said. “She read something about this school. She knew I had a problem with alcohol because my parents kept catching me with bottles. So, they really wanted me to come here so I could make the full circle, switch it around.”
Toby’s first day at Action Academy was in February a few weeks after the semester began. But the “Hart at Home” program has allowed him to catch up, and get ahead, he said.
His classmate Dee R. also started the semester a few weeks late but has since caught up. Dee began smoking marijuana as an eighth-grader, and eventually being high started affecting his grades.
“Yeah, it was messing up my schoolwork,” Dee said. “My mom noticed that I would come home and not do homework. I would just go outside, come back, get high and then just go to sleep. So she’d ask me if I had homework, and I’d be like, ‘Nah, had an open day today.’”
Dee was attending Bowman High School last semester when he got into serious trouble.
“I got caught coming to school high,” he said. “[School officials] told me, ‘You either go to Action [Academy] or get kicked out of the district.’ I didn’t want to get kicked out of the district because I wanted to finish school, so I came here to [get] help, and stay sober.”
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More about Action Academy from the Students’ Point of View
Here are more highlights from AM 1220 KHTS’s conversation with Action Academy students Toby and Dee about their experiences at the school, as of spring break 2014:
Peeples: Toby, you told us earlier you had a serious problem with alcohol, that you drank every day. Do you know why?
Toby: I don’t know. I didn’t like the way I was feeling, so I would just drink. Every day when I’d get off school, since I live right by the school, I would just drink and go home.
When I first got in trouble back in October – I got caught with marijuana, so I had to go through the TIDE program, and started attending Action meetings. But then when I was done with the Action meetings, I was like, “I’m going to start drinking.” I knew I didn’t want to smoke, so I substituted it.
Peeples: Now, after your mom caught you with bottles then read about Action Academy and wanted you to attend there, how did you react?
Toby: At first, I was in denial, like I didn’t need the help, but it really helped. It’s different now. Everything’s better, with my parents, and what they think.
Peeples: I had to wonder how you could get drunk, go home and your folks not know about it. So they did know. How do you think that made them feel?
Toby: They thought I had no respect for them whatsoever, being drunk in their house.
Peeples: The flip-side of that is they may have felt they failed somewhere in some way.
Peeples: So you started classes at Action Academy and online in February. What happened next?
Toby: Day by day I was staying sober with my classmates. They help me with all of our stories, just sharing – they’re like family, so they just help me.
Peeples: That’s a central part of the Action program: You don’t have to go it alone.
Toby: Yes, there’s all of this support for you.
Peeples: Academically, do you think you’re getting the level of instruction you would get at a regular high school, or better?
Toby: Yes, and it’s better, because I’m already done with two classes and have only two more left. I’m almost done with another class. If I finish these early, I can get other classes for even more credits. So even if you’re behind in credits, it really helps.
Peeples: Now we’re at spring break 2014, and you’ve got a good couple of months behind you at Action Academy. What’s your perspective now? Do you think you’re on the right track?
Toby: Yes, I’m on the right track. So far since I’ve been here, I got a job now, so it’s pretty nice. And just being around the same peers, we’re all staying sober. It’s nice.
Peeples: That’s good. It’s about all for one…
Toby: …one for all.
Peeples: There’s a lot to be said about that camaraderie. It’s something that happens with guys in the military, too. … They try to protect each other and make sure everybody gets home safely.
Dee’s Action Academy Experience: ‘I Haven’t Been Tempted’
Peeples: Now, Dee, you said you were 13 when you started smoking marijuana.
Dee: I had a problem coming to school high every day.
Peeples: After you got caught last fall and opted to transfer from Bowman to Action Academy, as opposed to being thrown out of the district, what happened next?
Dee: My mom thought it would be a good idea for me to come here. She brought me here, signed me up, and I came the next day.
Peeples: What did you think about this school that first day, when you drove up? Were you in denial, too?
Dee: Yeah, I was like, “I’m not trying to do this. I’d just rather go to [Opportunities for Learning] or something.” But I regret that [denial]. I like being here. If I was going to OFL, I feel like I’d be behind. I wouldn’t be ahead, like I am right now.
Ever since then, I’ve been sober. I haven’t been tempted to [take a] hit, buy any weed or anything.
Action Academy After Hours
Peeples: The sober school is not only a safe place to learn, but also a place to be – and stay sober – after school. That’s when many kids get into trouble. That’s pretty important.
Toby, what do you do after 2?
Toby: After 2 I take the bus home, so I get home around 3. I just work on my classes here [and] online. After that, I’ll usually spend time with my sister, playing in the backyard with her, or just watch TV. She’s 9 years old.
Peeples: That’s cool, so you want to be a good example for your little sister, too?
Peeples: Dee, what do you do after school?
Damaris: I take the bus home. I’ll go home and either put on some basketball clothes, go to the park, play ball, or just kick it inside and watch TV.
Peeples: How about after-school activities, group meetings? Where does the therapy end of the program fit in?
Toby: There’s IOP [intensive outpatient treatment here on Mondays and Wednesdays for people who need the extra help. Tuesday nights, I still go to Action meetings.
Dee: I don’t go to that meeting. I just come here.
Picking Up Good Vibrations from Remo HealthRhythm Drum Circle
Peeples: I’ve heard about the Thursday drum circle.
Dee: It’s good. We all have that good vibe playing drums together. [The facilitator] would tell us, “Do a beat,” and she would have somebody else go along with it, and when it was done she would ask, “How did that beat make you feel? Did it make you feel calm or not? What were you thinking about when you were playing that beat?”
And then she’ll ask the other person how it made them feel, then go to the next person.
Peeples: When you start doing beats together, you also start to understand the value of teamwork. I’m a drummer. I’ve also done drum circles for stress relief. To you, what’s the value of the drum circle in your recovery and continued sobriety? Toby?
Toby: It’s a team thing, because when one person starts the beat, then we all know how to do it, and we keep the rhythm going. It feels really good. [We] reminiscence, too. [During] one of the activities, [the facilitator] told us to close our eyes and reminiscence about a time we had as a child, while she was singing and the other instructor was hitting the drum. It was really cool.
Peeples: This is not something you would necessarily find in a normal high school.
Toby: [laughs] Yeah, that’s for sure. Dee?
Dee: I never did drums like that. I never went to a school that had a drum group, therapy, and all that. When I came here, and heard there was a drum group, I was like, “Whoa, what?” But I started getting used to it and it’s fun.
Once They Had no Future; Now They Have Goals
Peeples: Toby, what are you looking to do? Short-term goals? Long-term goals?
Toby: I want to go to Cal State Fresno…I want to be an accountant. I’m really good with numbers and math. Fresno has a really nice accounting program. It’d be nice to get over there.
Peeples: Cool. Once you learn accounting, you don’t become an accountant – you can become a businessman, because you know how to run a business… You can be a business owner and be your own accountant, then make enough money to hire an accountant. Just be sure he’s or she’s honest.
Dee, what’s your goal for the immediate future and for the long term?
Dee: I want to play basketball. That’s my main goal. If that doesn’t go, I want to be an athletic trainer.
Peeples: OK. You’re a short guy like me…
Toby: [laughs] Point guard!
Dee: [laughs] I’ll probably go for point guard or something.
Peeples: There you go. Coaching is a real good thing, too. It doesn’t matter how tall you are if you know the game and you can help the tall guys make the points. That’s of great value to a team.
So after spring break 2014, what’s ahead of the rest of the semester?
Toby: We’re going to continue to stay sober, of course. Finish up our classes.
And then there were 6…
Peeples: At the beginning of the semester, Action Academy’s student body numbered 12. You’re down to a core of six or seven. How does that feel, to be part of that unit that’s made it through hell and high water to get to this point?
Toby: It feels good. You can say you’ve managed to continue; you didn’t give up. You stayed with it. We’ve made it through together, as a team. We’ve all stuck together to get [to the end], staying sober.
Peeples: How important do you think a sober environment like Action Academy is to someone recovering from abuse or addiction?
Dee: It’s important. It’s an opportunity for every kid. They’ll get caught up [with schoolwork] if they come here. Instead of messing up their lives getting high, they can come here and get support and stay sober.
Peeples: Yeah, the support here is not just academic, but also psychological and emotional counseling. And you do seem to be more closely knit than students at a normal public school attended by hundreds or thousands of students.
Dee: Yeah, we’re like a family.
Toby: Like we’ve known each other forever.
Peeples: Finally, what would you suggest to a friend of yours who’s having problems with alcohol/drugs and hasn’t really figured out how to live life again without them? What would you say to them?
Toby: The most important thing is, you can’t do it alone, as you said. You need the support. You just need it. When you’re around people who have the same problem as you and you get through it together, you need that. You also get the education, so that helps, too. You’re not just coming here just to stay clean – you’re coming here to stay clean and get that education.
Dee: I’d tell them to get back on the wagon, walk a straight line, go to Action [Academy], get your education, stay sober. I’d ask them, ‘Would you rather stick with problems or go to a school that’ll help you get yourself working?’
Peeples: Anyone your age who is abusing drugs or alcohol should ask that question. Addiction is a disease and can really grab you, but nobody’s going to stop using unless they really want to. That’s a choice. I’m sure everyone at Action and at KHTS AM 1220 will join me in commending you for choosing to make the most of Action Academy, and encourage you to keep making these kinds of good choices. We hope to talk to you in a year from now and see you graduate. Thanks again.
Action Academy is located at 20655 Soledad Canyon Road, Unit 24. Call 661-467-2741.
Visit http://www.actionfamily.org to find out more about the Action Family Foundation and Action Academy.