Missouri high school helping students battling addiction

Posted at 11:37 AM, Nov 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-13 11:37:59-05

With the heroin epidemic continuing to impact so many families, a local high school is offering a unique resource for students battling addiction.

Great Circle Academy in Webster Groves opened this year and has room for 20 students. Currently, five students are enrolled at the school. The students have normal classwork and can graduate with a diploma to continue onto college but they also have a therapist and a recovery coach.

The leaders at Great Circle Academy say for this to work there has to be a complete lifestyle change. The change includes putting students in a new learning environment there aren’t triggers, which can happen with old friends if they returned to a traditional school, and including their family in the process.

“We can keep them sober from 8 to 3 but what happens from 3 in the afternoon until 8 the next morning, and what happens at 3 on Friday until 8 Monday morning? That’s the key, to keep them sober through those times and make them feel like they are part of something bigger and better,” said President and CEO of Great Circle Vince Hillyer.

Hillyer has a very personal reason for his dedication to the students’ success.

“I grew up in a family of alcoholics and drug addicts so I’ve been around it my entire life,” said Hillyer. “It does affect the entire family. I can’t tell you the stress and amount of energy that is spent on the child that has the issue. It takes parents around from their work. It takes them away from their feelings. It takes them away from their friends. You become very isolated. You feel like you’re the only family in the world going through this. And it is very lonely and there’s nothing worse than to bury your child.”

Hillyer points to the school’s recovery coach as one of its biggest assets. Jordan Combs combines her own life experience and education to help coach students to recognize triggers and then how to cope with them.

“One of the greatest things about the connection between the kids that are in this environment is they can talk about their old stories and what they used to do,” said Jordan Combs, the recovery coach at Great Circle Academy. “But, they can also address why they don’t want to do them anymore and why it’s affected their lives and how they are moving forward.”

Jordan knows all too well how addiction can turn tragic.

“My good friend from high school actually got addicted to painkillers when we were in high school and then he overdosed from heroin,” said Combs. “Substance abuse does not discriminate.”

Great Circle Academy is the only accredited recovery high school in the state of Missouri. Across the country, there are 41 recovery high schools.

The school is tuition-based with $15,000 scholarships available to cover more than half the cost. School leaders said they will work with any family to figure out the finances.