CASE STUDY 4: Sobriety High, Edina, Minnesota

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 Minnesota’s 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 state certified.

"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 don’t have a janitor; the kids clean the school and make the rules."

Involving students in the operation of the school is part of Sobriety High’s 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 High’s success. Says Hansen, "The success of the school depends on the trust and respect of the group. The kids make it."

Another key to the school’s 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 region’s regular high schools, fifty percent graduate.55 (Due to measurement differences, these two graduation rates are not comparable.)