When a coalition of community partners began working last year to establish the first recovery high school program in Knox County, faculty and students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, were quick to offer their support.
“If we’re going to mitigate the opioid crisis in Tennessee, we need to start with our students,” said Jennifer Tourville, a clinical nursing professor. “They need our resources, first and foremost.”
Tourville, who leads UT’s Substance Misuse Community of Scholars, is part of a trio of faculty members helping to launch the initiative—known as the Elevate Program. A partnership between Knox County Schools, the Helen Ross McNabb Center, the Metro Drug Coalition, and other local organizations, the Elevate Program is designed to support Knox County high school students who have a history of drug or alcohol use.
According to the Association of Recovery Schools, only 43 other recovery schools or programs exist nationwide. Currently no such program exists in Tennessee.
Also involved from UT are Shandra Forrest-Bank, associate professor of social work and director of the Social Work Office of Research and Public Service (SWORPS), and Courtney Childers, associate professor of advertising and public relations. In spring 2020, Forrest-Bank and Tourville were awarded a UT One Collaboration and Innovation Grant to provide program evaluation. Childers’s summer 2020 advertising campaigns class developed the Elevate name, logo, swag and promotional mockups, and social media strategy.
“The name is meant to be seen as a reminder that no matter where you are in life, you can always raise or elevate to better yourself,” wrote Childers’s students, the ADvocates, in their executive summary for the project.
Unlike the usual model for recovery high schools, Elevate will not require students to transfer in from base schools. Weekdays students will go to the McNabb Center’s John Tarleton Campus, where they will receive intensive outpatient treatment and classroom instruction. On Friday afternoons, they will meet with community partners, including recovery experts, for enrichment. Their transcripts will not show they participated in Elevate. And if their graduation coincides with completing the program, they will graduate with a diploma from their original school.
“This is not a separate high school; this is a program,” said Daphne Odom, special education and gifted and talented supervisor for Knox County Schools. “It’s important to make that distinction. To defeat stigma, we need to show those in recovery are not separate from their communities.”
Odom leads the local task force, which includes UT faculty and is charged with establishing the program.
“Although there are best practice guidelines available, the evidence to support recovery high school design is scarce and prior results are mixed,” said Forrest-Bank, who worked for years as an administrator of community-based addiction treatment programs. SWORPS Senior Research Associate Emily McCutcheon will lead program evaluation for Elevate.
In addition to reducing stigma around substance misuse, Elevate’s stated goals are to support sustained sobriety through a healthy campus environment and coordinated care with referring off-site organizations and to provide quality education that addresses the learning styles of each student and grows their academic skills to improve their options after high school.
For Tourville and Forrest-Bank, the hope is that the program’s success will support the development of a collegiate recovery program at UT. Tourville currently chairs an advisory board that aims to establish a recovery program on each campus in the UT System.
“This could serve as a pathway for students who complete Elevate to continue to be supported as they pursue higher education,” Tourville said.
Elevate is supported by funds from the Boyd Foundation, Knox County Mayors Office, and McNabb Center. It launches in the 2021–22 academic calendar year and coincides with the Knox County Schools schedule.
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