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Great Circle Opens Missouri’s First Educational Program for Teens in Recovery

Academy supports academic needs & lifestyle changes to address substance use/relapse, plus reduce economic impact and societal costs

Great Circle Academy opens as sober high school for teens in substance use recovery

(August 21, 2017 – St. Louis) Great Circle, one of Missouri’s largest nonprofit providers of behavioral health services for children and families, has opened a private, co-ed educational program for high school-age teens in recovery from treatment for substance use. Called Great Circle Academy, it is the first program of its kind in Missouri, and is located on Great Circle’s campus in Webster Groves, Missouri.

Great Circle Academy combines several components – a high school focused on academic excellence, therapy and recovery coaching available 24/7, support services for the family, and specialized after-school and weekend programs – to create a single, holistic experience for teens in recovery. The school is aligned with Great Circle’s existing private school in Webster Groves, which is accredited through the Independent Schools Association of Central States (ISACS). Along with focusing on academic rigor, the Academy’s teaching staff and therapists bring years of expertise to effectively help students in recovery.

“The first year sober is the most critical time for recovery, especially for teens,” says Vince Hillyer, Great Circle’s president and CEO. “Great Circle Academy delivers the academics students need for graduation along with the ongoing support and counseling that is so essential to helping them avoid relapse and map out a brighter and sober future.  And because we know successful recovery must be a family journey, we offer the same commitment to the whole family.”

For decades, Great Circle has been providing behavioral health services and delivering specialized education for grades K-12. This positions the statewide nonprofit to fill a critical gap that exists in Missouri for teens who want to break the cycle of addiction and relapse. “The Academy is a fresh alternative for teens at a very critical time in their lives,” says Dr. Eric Winkles, vice president of education at Great Circle. “For Missouri teens in recovery, education options are limited once they’ve completed a treatment program. Online programs often fall short on academic rigor and graduation rates are low, and they don’t help students deal with social situations that are part of life. Returning to their home district after treatment puts teens at very high risk for relapse, surrounded by old friends and habits and the availability of illegal substances.”

The Academy opens at a time when the country and Missouri are struggling with sharply rising rates of substance abuse and death. In St. Louis, the number of opioid deaths alone has jumped more than 400 percent in the last decade. In 2017, the overwhelming rate of overdoses or death has law enforcement, hospitals and morgues searching for solutions to stem the crisis.

“Addictions are robbing our kids of their lives. Plus, 60 to 70 percent of teens will have at least one relapse,” says Hillyer. “Effective solutions must go deeper into the behavioral health factors that first drive substance use. Our Academy is designed to provide a strong circle of support, services and resources that aren’t just limited to the school day, but that are with them 24/7. We believe this approach gives young people and their families a solid chance to create a sober, positive future.”

According to a national study, students report that illicit substances are kept, used or sold in six out of every 10 high schools in the U.S. Great Circle recently commissioned a report through FOCUS St. Louis’ CORO® program that confirms the significant negative economic, health and societal impacts for teens with substance use disorders. That report, “High School, the Missing Link: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Relapse Prevention via a Recovery School in St. Louis,” shows the ripple effect of teenage addiction – increased emergency room and first responder costs, higher rates of incarceration or dropping out of school, unemployment and underemployment, increased employee absenteeism, higher long-term health costs and relapse rates, and death. “In a program like Great Circle Academy we can redirect a student’s path in ways that will reduce economic costs and positively impact our entire community,” Hillyer says.

Great Circle serves more than 30,000 children and families each year, through its 18 Missouri locations, including five campuses in St. Louis, Columbia, Marshall, Springfield and St. James. Its mission is to reshape vulnerable lives through a community of partners, teachers and leaders that strengthen families and give children confidence to create brighter futures. Great Circle provides specialized behavioral health services, 24-hour care, respite programs, and education and day treatment programs, including for children on the autism spectrum. It also delivers a broad spectrum of community-based services, including counseling, foster/adoptive care and parent support, assessments, crisis management and family stabilization.