KEYS Recovery High School makes achieving graduation possible


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“One day at a time” is the motto at the Knowledge Empowers Youth and Sobriety (KEYS) Academy, which is a Recovery High School on the campus of Brookdale Community College, Lincroft.

The free program provides an academically innovative and supportive environment to serve high school students who have substance use disorders and who seek a way to graduate high school and live a healthy and sober life. Funding is provided by the New Jersey Department of Education under the Recovery Access Grant, according to a press release.

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“Working on recovery while attending high school is a challenge, but we take it one day at a time,” KEYS Academy Assistant Director and Co-Founder Jennise Nieves said. “Recovery and achieving graduation are possible. We have many photos of our graduates. I like to say, just focus on today, June will come.”

A typical day starts with a morning meeting or meditation in a comfortable space with the students. The students talk about the 12 steps of helping one another achieve and support abstinence from the substances or behaviors to which they are addicted. Then they begin their classes.

KEYS is an extension of the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District. The district provides the instructional curriculum, teaching staff, academic support, transportation and coordination of supportive counseling services, according to the press release.

The academy works with the students’ sending home school districts to develop an individualized academic schedule required to meet state and school district graduation requirements, according to the press release.

Additionally, KEYS provides students with a comprehensive wellness program that integrates a holistic perspective in which academics, recovery and wellness work hand-in-hand.

Wellness programs include boxing, yoga and mindfulness, equestrian therapy, community service, nutrition, Narcotics Anonymous/Alcoholics Anonymous self-help groups, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and prevention-related health services.

The academy’s faculty members are experienced and knowledgeable in their academic fields. This includes a science teacher who teaches marine science, anatomy and physiology, and a school social worker with experience in mental health, the college process and vocational opportunities, according to the press release.

In addition, KEYS has teachers who come directly from the Matawan-Aberdeen district to offer in-person instruction in English, social studies, creative arts, physical education and health.

There is rolling admission. Students can enter the program at any time, no matter where they are in their education process.

While on the Brookdale campus, the students may take additional art programs the college offers and use the fitness center and all the recreational amenities.

The students can take college courses through the dual enrollment program with Brookdale as they finish high school. Some students take advantage of easily transferring to Brookdale after graduation, according to the press release.

“Brookdale is of great support to our students, families and school districts throughout the state. Brookdale is offering an attainable opportunity (to the students) to continue their post-secondary education in a safe, supportive and welcoming community,” Nieves said.

“When I first thought about opening a Recovery High School, I thought, how awesome would it be to be on a college campus? How great it would be that there was no embarrassment.

“Everything is where it needs to be. It is not a traditional alternative. School is uplifting and safe. It is welcoming and opens the door to college for the students,” Nieves said.

The population at KEYS Academy is diverse, with different socioeconomic statuses, backgrounds and cultures. The high school students currently enrolled are from Rumson-Fair Haven, Holmdel, Monmouth Regional, Sayreville, Jackson, Keyport, Red Bank Regional and Rahway.

Students can be referred to the academy by their school, parents, school counselor or treatment facility.

“Sometimes the students go back to their school district to finish, which is a great thing when they are sober, healthy and well, we want them to go back. Sometimes they come back the following year, realizing they really want to stay here.

“They come because they want to come. There is no suspension. You don’t get kicked out. The journey is not easy, it is not going to be easy. We drug test them every single week. If they relapse, we will talk about it,” Nieves said.

In its sixth year, KEYS Academy is one of three Recovery High Schools in New Jersey. The academy’s staff members understand addiction and mental health illness disease and can integrate health and wellness and create a spiritual connection for healing, according to the press release.

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