Recovery high school celebrates successes, plans for expansion

Knowledge empowers youth and sobriety, known as Keys, is a recovery high school for students with addiction. It’s located on the Brookdale Community College campus and will be celebrating its second graduating class next week.

“The graduations fluctuate, so we have about 15 students right now coming from Ocean, Monmouth and Middlesex Counties. So we’ve grown from six students, so we’ve doubled in size. We’re looking to increase that enrollment next year,” said Joseph Majka, superintendent of schools for the Matawan-Aberdeen school district. “As we know, it’s often very difficult when you’re in recovery to go back to your normal settings. This is an opportunity to remove people from their normal settings, give them a new start on life, and have those support systems in place so they can lead with success.”

Staff hope to expand the program by renovating a classroom for their life skills area. The new addition would be focused on helping students who are transitioning out of the program.

“Eventually they’ll have to leave the Keys atmosphere, whether its graduation or because they move or what have you. If that happen then they need to have that those tools in order to transition to that new life, that new role, those new stressors,” said Matawan-Aberdeen Board of Education President Allison Friedman.

Eighteen-year old Jackson Croke knows firsthand what those stressors feel like. The teen was kicked out of two schools for abusing drugs before attending Keys. After just three months in the program, he says he’s happy to be clean and heading to college next year.

“It was really hard being sober those first couple of days, but after that I just haven’ have to worry about anything. When I was abusing drugs I had to sneak around. I was constantly lying to my parents and to my friends and stuff. It’s not who I was and wasn’t who I wanted to be,” Croke said.

“We are very proud to say that we have a 97% attendance rate. Knowing where the students came from, some of our students were not in school for over two years, so huge academic gaps, they come to school every day,” said Nelyda Perez, assistant superintendent of special services and programs.

Jennise Nieves is the program coordinator. She says the ultimate goal is to help build a strong support system for students who want to learn but who are struggling to get sober.

“Keys is that saving grace, that second opportunity that collaborates to ensure we are providing what the kids exactly needs,” she said.

Nieves says sobriety and academic success have to happen together in order for students to remain sober outside of high school.

“The results are extremely amazing. Our students have received sobriety, they’re graduating and most importantly they are living,” Nieves said.

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