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Kolbe Academy

The Diocese of Allentown has announced the planned opening of the nation’s first Catholic-run high school for students recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

Kolbe Academy is scheduled open its doors next September to up to 90 ninth through 12th grade students in need of an environment designed to cater to recovery. Curriculum, staff and counselors will be all focused on teens in need.

Diocese Department of Education Deputy Superintendent of Secondary and Special Education Dr. Brooke Tesche began work on the project two years ago.

“As I spent my career working, I’ve seen kids struggling with drugs and alcohol in their lives,” she said. “And when these students struggle, our teachers do their best to try to meet their needs.

“However, despite their best efforts and the depth of their caring, the system is not designed for their needs.

“We do have excellent resources in Lehigh and Northampton counties, but the majority of our providers’ expertise is working with adults.”

She noted both counties’ drug and alcohol offices participated in the program’s development.

Such students are usually placed in special education or behavioral or emotional support programs in their school districts, she explained.

Only about 20 percent of them are able to progress without relapse. Recovery high schools have around an 85 percent successful recovery rate, and offer continuous supports, Tesche said.

“Our children need a program that will specialize in the challenges they have. They need a recovery high school,” she said. “Lehigh Valley children deserve a recovery high school.”

Kolbe Academy will have a certified principal, teachers and support staff, and will be a tuition-based school at a cost of about $15,000-$16,000 per year.

This is comparable to standard Catholic education with recovery and counseling components. It is also about what a family might expect to pay for a month of treatment.

Financial aid, grants and work directly with districts are all expected to be available to help tuition affordable, Tesche said.

School days will be 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., with transportation provided by the student’s home district or parents. The latter is mandatory for applicants from beyond the Lehigh Valley.

Referrals may come to the academy from schools, parents, churches, the Diocese’ intermediate units or other referral agencies or providers. Applicants must have proof of a minimum of 30 days sobriety before they will be considered but students of all faiths and none may participate.

Allentown Diocese Bishop Alfred Schlert commented on the school.

“The Diocese of Allentown is blessed to be able to offer this, recognizing the need of so many families in the Lehigh Valley,” Schlert said. “All will be welcome here, not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.”

The Kolbe Academy will occupy the former St. Francis Academy, Bridle Path Road, Hanover Township.

Bishop Alfred Schlert said the diocese's existing high schools and Sisters of St. Francis helped make the school possible.