Raymond Lesniak High School will be located on campus

By: Alexandria Addesso

Starting in September 2014, Kean University will be housing the Raymond J. Lesniak Recovery High School for teens recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

“The President [Dawood Farahi] was gracious enough to give us a commitment,” said Pamela Capaci, the director of Prevention Links in Roselle, the main backing organization, and the person who initiated the process of starting up the high school, “for year one.”

The Raymond J. Lesniak Recovery High School will be located in one of the free standing buildings across the street from the D’Angola Gymnasium near the Child Study Institute for the first year of enrollment, free of cost. Although there is no certainty if the school will remain on Kean property after the first year, Capaci expressed a desire for growth of the already established relationship between the high school and the university and the possibility of offering internship opportunities for Kean students.

The high school is projected to house 18-25 students for the first year from grades 9-12. Although the school will focus on getting attendants from Union County, Roselle and Elizabeth in particular, any student living in New Jersey who has already been through treatment for drug or alcohol addiction and expresses a desire to “stay clean” is eligible to attend. The school day will include educational instruction according to the state’s standards as well as addiction support groups. There will be no on-site treatment.

Being that the high school will be located on a university campus, the hope is to inspire its students to want to pursue education.

“Kean offers our students [an opportunity] to be in a surrounding that encourages academic excellence,” said Capaci.

Raymond Lesniak, New Jersey Senator of the 20th District, was chosen as the namesake for the high school after getting involved in the process of establishing a recovery school in New Jersey about a year and a half ago. His active role in enabling second chances for ex-convicts re-entering society by abolishing the death penalty in New Jersey and establishing drug programs instead of jail time for drug users has also made him an appropriate candidate.

“He’s [Lesniak] been a great champion for us,” said Capaci.

Lesniak, who is from Elizabeth and has been in the state legislature since 1983, has had a long relationship with Kean and President Farahi, and is one of the most powerful Democrats in New Jersey.

On Nov. 12, the plans for the recovery high school were revealed at an event in Elizabeth.

“Public education is a constitutional right,” said Lesniak at the unveiling event according to The Star-Ledger, “and children with substance abuse problems are being denied that opportunity.”

After an application for charter school status was denied, the recovery school became a public-private partnership, according to The Star-Ledger, and will use contracted teachers from the Union County Education Association.

Funding for the school has been mainly in the hands of Prevention Links through fundraising and applying for both federal and state grants. The Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth has also assisted with funds, and out of district funds from each student’s hometown public school district may also be available.

The recovery high school model has been used throughout the United States since the 1990s. According to research done by Prevention Links, the graduation rate for students attending recovery high schools is 90 percent whereas students who return back to their original public high schools is 20 percent.

“The recovery high school is necessary so that when kids get out of treatment they don’t go back to the same people,” said Capaci, “so they can stay clean and not go back to how they were before treatment.”

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