Virginia's first high school recovery program opens, and the 'perfect storm' it took to happen

·4 min read

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY— Now high schoolers struggling with addiction can get the help they need to achieve success with the state's first-ever recovery high school.

Housed at the Career and Technical Center at Hull Street, the Chesterfield Recovery Academy will serve 14 localities including the Tri-Cities, Dinwiddie, Prince George, Richmond, Surry, and Sussex. The school held its ribbon cutting ceremony yesterday morning.

The Chesterfield Recovery Academy provides students a safe, drug-free and nurturing environment where they won't be tempted back into substance abuse and can work actively towards building a better future. Individualized, online learning allows them to get caught up in classes that they've dropped out in the past.

"The entire goal of this program," said Chesterfield County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Mervin B. Daugherty, "[is] to give students hope. Just because you make a mistake doesn't mean it ends what you do. Let them know we care about them and love them, and they can be successful."

This academy has been years in the making. Republican Delegate Carrie Coyner proposed the bill that established the academy after having encounters with those in addiction. A year before Coyner joined the school board, a pastor approached her and asked her to help a woman who was struggling with an addiction. That woman turned out to be one of her old high school classmates, who had children around the same age.

"And it was in that journey of hearing her story... that I thought wow, you know, but for my path being slightly different, it could have been me or anybody else I had gone to high school with."

Coyner then began to visit the Chesterfield County Jail with Sheriff Karl Leonard, who runs a program there helping those with addiction, and was struck to see more of her classmates there.

"It's really easy to say [that] it's people not like my kids or not like my spouse or not like my neighbor, but it really is," said Coyner. "And but for something crossing their path, they would've been okay just like we are. But something happened and that disease of addiction took hold of them."

While visiting the jail, she heard stories of people falling into addiction during their middle and high school years and wishing that they had more help. It was out of that relationship she developed with Leonard and her time serving on the school board that Coyner saw the need for a recovery school.

Enter Daugherty, who became the Chesterfield County Public Schools superintendent in 2018 and also had a similar vision as Coyner.

"I've been in education for a long time, and there's always been a need," said Daugherty. "So how can we help our young people feel that there's still that light there that you can get to?"

Coyner described it as having "the perfect storm" of the right people serving in the school board, in the General Assembly and in the state at the same time, who all came together to make this mission possible.

Daugherty said his team contacted recovery schools in other states, which helped to guide the model for the school. While those schools were for profit, Chesterfield's will be completely free to the students, funded by their foundation and state grants.

"And I am hopeful that this is the start of what we will see spread across the entire Commonwealth of Virginia as a model where our kids have a new path where they are able to maintain their journey of recovery and graduate on time, and we will see less of them sharing their stories from jails in Virginia," said Coyner.

The Chesterfield Recovery Program is aimed for those in the early stages of their recovery. The school offers a complete suite of online courses for the student to access individually, since every pupil will be on a different schedule of classes they need to be caught up in or complete. Students will be able to learn at their own pace, with a facilitator in the classroom to offer guidance when they need it. In addition, the school offers career counseling and a flexible schedule which will allow them to work or do internships.

Three therapists will be on-site to give students counseling. Depending on the students' needs, they could have sessions daily or weekly, and will also receive group counseling.

The school will have it's first day on August 22 and is currently doing an intake to fill the 25 seats available. To be considered for enrollment, students need to be sober for at least 20 to 30 days and have started treatment so that the school can continue with recovery. When accepted, students can remain in the school until they graduate or return back to their home school at any point. Acceptance will be on a first come, first served basis and students that come after will be placed on a waitlist.

The school is currently accepting applications. To enroll, fill out an easy application online, which can be found here:

Joyce Chu, an award-winning investigative journalist, is the Social Justice Watchdog Reporter for The Progress Index. Contact her with comments, concerns, or story-tips at or on Twitter @joyce_speaks.

This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: Virginia's first high school recovery program opens in Chesterfield