Gaithersburg-based Academic Program To Offer ‘Fresh Start’ to Students Recovering from Addiction

Program backed by MCPS, service providers could get up and running over the summer


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Superintendent Jack Smith helped announce the opening of a recovery school program in Gaithersburg.

Bethany Rodgers

State officials, education leaders and social service providers on Tuesday celebrated the launch of a substance abuse recovery program for Montgomery County students.

The Recovery and Academic Program (RAP) will allow young people who are emerging from addiction to keep up on their coursework in a safe, supportive environment, the officials say.

“Students cannot be expendable in our society,” Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith said during the event in Gaithersburg.

MCPS is collaborating with the nonprofit Family Services Inc. on the new academic initiative. The Family Services’ recovery clubhouse, called The Landing, supports youth aged 12 to 17 through the recovery process and will provide study space and services to the young people participating in RAP. MCPS is contributing teachers who can guide students through their coursework and is buying Chromebooks for the teens to use.

The state has also pitched in with a $200,000 grant, part of Gov. Larry Hogan’s $50 million commitment to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic across Maryland.

“We are hoping we can replicate programs like this throughout the state, in other jurisdictions that are, of course, facing this challenge,” Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said Tuesday.

The program isn’t operating yet, and officials aren’t sure when its first students will arrive. Evelyn Saim-Lobos, program director of The Landing, said MCPS still needs to hire teachers and she needs a couple more staff members before it can begin. But she hopes the RAP will welcome its first students for summer school.

She said the 20 young people who are currently part of The Landing program are interested in participating in the RAP.

The RAP and The Landing will share a building on East Diamond Avenue in Gaithersburg; students who are in the academic program during the day will be encouraged to take advantage of The Landing’s recovery services in the afternoons and evenings.

School board member Rebecca Smondrowski noted that in 1979, MCPS opened the nation’s first recovery school, called the Phoenix School. The school closed its doors in 2013 after its enrollment dwindled, but Smondrowski said one of her goals on the school board was to create another learning environment geared toward recovering students.

“Students, especially those looking to change their lives, need a fresh start and a safe space where they can learn skills to maintain sobriety and cope with stressors in a more productive manner, while also being able to continue working toward graduation and college, career and community readiness,” Smondrowski said.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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