OdysseyNH Academy is State's First Recovery High School

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Academy Helps Teens In Recovery

By Susan Morse

Hampton Union, Friday, April 11, 2008

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]
On the front steps are Loretta Allison, director of development, and David Choate, president of the board of directors. John Soucy, director of operations for OdysseyNH, left and Amy Allen, director of education, right, talk with students Rachel, Katie, and Joe, in front of the new OdysseyNH Academy on High Street.
[John Carden Photo]

OdysseyNH has finished its long awaited transformation of a former church on High Street in Hampton into the state's first recovery high school.

Work is just beginning to enhance and expand the substance abuse programs, particularly to the local community. OdysseyNH bought and renovated the former Maranantha Assembly of God and added a wing that includes eight classrooms. Thirty teens — 20 boys and 10 girls — living in Odyssey's residential treatment program on Winnacunnet Road attend OdysseyNH Academy; another six come from home as day students and there's capacity for four more.

Earlier this month, administrators joined the students in the new building, moving from Dover into offices above the classroom wing.

The organization, formerly known as Odyssey House Inc., is opening its new doors at 150 High Street, to the public in an open house on May 30, from 3 to 6 p.m.

OdysseyNH Academy has the usual math, science, English and art classes for a state-accredited, high school education. The average classroom consists of six students, ranging in age from seventh to 12th grade.

The school also has a staff of counselors and special education specialists to help students overcome substance abuse and behavioral difficulties. The skills will help after the student leaves OdysseyNH and returns home to surroundings that may be unchanged from their days of drinking, abusing drugs, skipping school and breaking the law.

The average stay at Odyssey NH is seven months.

"Our job is really to prepare them for adulthood," said Principal Amy Allen, director of education.
Students attend a science class in one of the new classrooms at OdysseyNH Academy on High Street in Hampton.
[John Carden Photo]

The teens used to attend classes in the basement of the home where they lived on Winnacunnet Road, formerly called Odyssey House. The house is now the living quarters only and is known as the Adolescent Therapeutic Center. A van transports the students to school each day.

"I like it that we're not stuck in the same building," said Joe, 16, who has been with OdysseyNH since September. His last name and town were withheld to protect his identity.

Joe goes to math, science, gym and social studies classes and takes part in a substance abuse group for 45 minutes each day. He started drinking at age 11, he said. Before he was a teenager his parents split up and lost their house. He smoked pot, took pills and cocaine and skipped school. He then sold drugs and stole a car.

All of the teens in the residential program are there by court-ordered placement. They come from around the state.

"It has changed my life," Joe said. "I have life goals. I wake up in the morning happy. That's not bad for being in placement."

Joe expects to go home at the end of May or June. He said he's stopped wearing the baggy clothes of his gang days and feels confident he'll be able to avoid a relapse. He wants to go into mechanics, something he can do with his hands.

Katie, 15, who arrived nine months ago, also said it won't be hard for her to go home to her high school, but admitted, "I'd rather go to an alternative school. I want to get into home health care for the elderly. I want to go to college."

David Choate, president of the Board of Directors of OdysseyNH, would like to see more done to track and help students once they leave the program.

John Soucy, director of operations, said Odyssey conducts a follow up with former students three to six times a year.

"It's a funding issue," Choate said. "I think a lot of people view social services as getting money from the state and federal government."

The facility needs private and corporate donations to operate and grow, said Loretta Allison, director of development.

OdysseyNH is raising $750,000 for the recovery high school, to build a commercial kitchen that will also serve as a culinary classroom; to continue renovating and furnishing the new space; and to upgrade outdated computers.

OdysseyNH is also looking to expand its services in the community to include teens not under court-ordered placement, and also adults.

The organization wants to reach those who can't afford a private substance abuse program, a service badly needed on the Seacoast, according to residents who speak at community forums on drug and alcohol abuse.

Teens and young adults can attend a free group called Making Change, that meets Thursdays at 6 p.m. at OdysseyNH. Barry Timmerman, director of substance abuse services, leads the program.

The school is also looking for businesses willing to serve as a transition class for a day or longer. Students now visit Gary Blake Saab, Empire Beauty School, N.H. Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, day care and elderly facilities, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and other businesses to learn different vocations. Students will also learn landscaping when that work is done around the building.

Odyssey House opened in Hampton 38 years ago. Other programs by OdysseyNH include the Blue Heron Inn in Hampton, an independent living home serving older adolescents; a short-term program called Prescriptive Assessment through Comprehensive Evaluation (PACE) in Rochester; and Odyssey Family Center in Canterbury, a residential treatment center for mothers and their young children.


What: OdysseyNH Academy Open House

Where: 150 High St., Hampton

When: Friday, May 30, from 3-6 p.m.

More information: Loretta Allison,
758-1587 or visit www.odysseynh.org.

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