Cape Assist

The clinical staff at Cape Assist, an addiction counseling service in Wildwood, received training from the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey. ‘A lot of our clients really need these services, and it’s not easy to find in our area,’ says Kathryn Gibson, Cape Assist’s director of recovery services.

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — By March 1, South Jersey will have its first recovery high school for students committed to overcoming addiction or mental health issues.

The Middle Township School District announced last week it was notified by Gov. Phil Murphy’s office that it will receive a $500,000 grant to serve a handful of students at the newly established Coastal Prep High School in Wildwood.

“I said, ‘What a great opportunity, not only for Cape May County but for the southern counties to give students who are recovering from addiction and other issues.’ We could give them a chance to get their high school diploma and get them on the right path. And I think that’s what we’re here to do,” said Middle Township Superintendent David Salvo.

The Coastal Prep recovery high school, located at the Cape Assist office on New Jersey Avenue, will become the state’s third recovery high school and serve students from Burlington County to Cape May and parts of Ocean County, Salvo said.

State data show New Jersey’s drug addiction problem is growing and is especially prevalent in the southern counties. In 2017, Atlantic, Cape May, Camden, Cumberland, Ocean, Gloucester and Salem counties had the top eight highest rates of admissions for substance-abuse treatment in the state.

“For the young adult who is ready to give up drugs and alcohol and live a life in recovery, there are not enough supports,” said Katie Faldetta, executive director of Cape Assist, which will provide recovery and transition services for students and families at the high school.

She said providing a place for students to complete their education and give them and their family structure is a key to their eventual success.

Middle Township Director of Curriculum and Instruction Toni Lehman, who has helped develop the recovery school program, said the school is a chance to make an impact on the students while they are young.

“You can open up the obits and you can look at stats,” said Lehman. “We just don’t want to see any more of our students succumbing to opioid or any other drug-based addiction.”

Tonia Ahern, a family advocate in Cape May County, said it’s hard to quantify the need for youth treatment services because the problems among the age group are not often vocalized. She said schools often don’t want to face the label of needing help to combat addiction.

“People don’t just start having an issue at 18 years old. It’s happening during school,” Ahern said. “By addressing this early while they’re in school and giving them an option for recovery when they’re young, there’s a chance, before things get really out of control, that we can really change their lives.”

In late 2017, Middle Township received a $100,000 planning and research grant from the state for the recovery high school.

The new funding will pay for the implementation of the day program, including two educator positions, funding for Cape Assist’s services and transportation through June 30. Salvo said the district will rely on the state for future funding.

“It’s not something any one district can fund on its own,” he said.

Students who graduate from the recovery high school will receive a high school diploma from their home district.

Faldetta said those working on the high school program have been in communication with the two existing recovery high schools in the state — Raymond Lesniak in Union County and KEYS Academy in Monmouth County — to learn best practices.

“Kids who have graduated from that program have gone on to college, have gone on to start their own recovery programs, have gone on to start their lives,” she said. “The kids are doing so without drugs and alcohol. And I don’t know if you can say they would have if they didn’t have the support to them and to their families that the recovery high school provided them.”

Sally Onesty, of Ocean City, said her son, Tyler, who died of an opioid overdose nearly three years ago, could have benefited from a recovery high school.

“I think it’s amazing, and I think it’s needed. I think the community should definitely get behind it,” said Onesty, who has been a vocal advocate for addiction services and family support in the community.

Recovery high school programs are small, serving about a dozen students a year. Coastal Prep’s first class will serve about five to eight students. Faldetta said that helps provide individualized education and support. She said the key is that students have to want to change their lives.

“It’s not most 16- and 17-year-olds who are using drugs and alcohol who want to stop. That’s the reality. This is a very special kid who at a very young age says, ‘I’m done,’” Faldetta said.

For more information, visit coastalprephigh or contact Cape Assist and ask for Katie Faldetta, executive director, or Kathy Gibson, director of recovery services, at 609-522-5960.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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