Founded in 1989 as a
tuition-based alternative school, Sobriety High educates 9th through 12th-grade
students in recovery from chemical dependency. In 1990, the nonprofit school was approved
under Minnesotas High School Graduation Incentives program and began accepting
public-school students under contract.
In 1994-95, Sobriety High enrolled 42 students from surrounding districts and had a
two-year waiting list. Sobriety High operates with significantly less public funding than
regular public high schools. For each student it enrolls, Sobriety High receives 88
percent of the state basic-revenue amount (and no local tax revenues), or about $3,200 per
pupil per year. The school raises additional funds from private donations.
Sobriety High is staffed by young teachers who also serve as mentors, counselors, and
friends to their students. Says Hansen, "Teachers here are hired for as much as who
they are as what their academic background is."53 Teachers at Sobriety
High must have a college degree in their area of instruction, but are not required to be
"To be admitted at Sobriety High, students and their parents must sign a sobriety
commitment pledging themselves to keep kids in a sober environment and graduate with a
diploma,"54 says Hansen. Students are automatically expelled if they
relapse three times.
To keep costs down, Sobriety High is located in a sparsely furnished suite of
classrooms in a suburban business park. Coursework focuses on core academic areas meeting
all regular state academic requirements. There is no gym, no chemistry lab, and no support
staff. Says Hansen, "We dont have a janitor; the kids clean the school and make
Involving students in the operation of the school is part of Sobriety Highs
approach. At group meetings, students address issues ranging from school cleanup to
student conduct. The group process also fosters tremendous peer pressure against using
drugs and alcohol, which is one reason for Sobriety Highs success. Says Hansen,
"The success of the school depends on the trust and respect of the group. The kids
Another key to the schools success is its controlled, sober environment. Being in
a separate school, away from their former peers who continue to use drugs and alcohol,
removes many of the temptations these students encountered in their regular schools.
The school has a graduation rate of 95 percent, according to Hansen. Among substance
abusers attending the regions regular high schools, fifty percent graduate.55
(Due to measurement differences, these two graduation rates are not comparable.)