1 in 7 kids under 18 admit to having used prescription pain killers without a prescription.
- CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL SURVEY, 2017
- CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL SURVEY, 2017
DRUG DEATHS in 2018 alone are heading toward the total U.S. death toll in the Vietnam War. Thousands of kids are born every year already addicted. In the face of this growing epidemic, public schools are not designed to meet the complex needs of kids with mental health and substance abuse disorders. In far too many communities, the attitude toward addicted children is still punitive: call the police and suspend or expel them. But for young addicts, how a school responds can mean the difference between life and death.
is a feature length documentary film chronicling a tumultuous year at Northshore Recovery High School, a ground-breaking public school in suburban Boston where teenagers study English, math, history, art, music and earn a diploma while working to recover from drug addictions.
ABOUT THE FILM
RECOVERY HIGH takes a vérité approach, getting to know the students by blending seamlessly into their daily routines. Director Steve Liss has filmed continuously for an entire academic year, from the first day of school through graduation.
We have not only captured the classes and activities typical of any high school, but also filmed therapy sessions, gut-wrenching crisis interventions and trips to the emergency room.
Due to this intimate access, we confront the raw anger, denial, guilt, and isolation that many of these young people experience.
But our journey also takes us through a deep sense of belonging. For many students Northshore Recovery High School is a surrogate family; a last, best hope for kids who no one else – not parents, not friends, not teachers or counselors – has been able to reach.
Principal and founder Michelle Lipinski is a former science teacher, and a true believer in the school. “Addiction is a disease, not a choice,” she says. Lipinski argues that in far too many communities, the attitude toward addicted children is still punitive. A critical and controversial component of Northshore Recovery High School is her refusal to stop engaging with students who relapse. “I’ve seen too many kids give up on themselves and become completely isolated,” she says, “and then they don’t come back to school at all. Mostly they get sicker. Too often they die.”
ALBA is a competitive cheerleader who describes herself as a “walking unicorn” and has been known to come to school wearing a tutu instead of a dress. Her mom is deaf, and Alba is fluent in sign language. An animal lover, she is loveable, warm, funny and out-going. Laughter is a coping mechanism for Alba, and it’s easy to forget that beneath the laughter she suffers from serious depression and low self-esteem, conditions which led to cocaine use at her former school and to a serious relapse during the current school year. Though it seems counterintuitive, relapse is often part of the recovery process.
JOHN is an excellent photographer, a leader and one of the most beloved kids at the school. He gives love back unconditionally and is genuinely surprised when people hurt one another. He suffers from deep depression and a profound fear of abandonment, having been a ward of the state for most of his life. But John’s path seems to have been transformed by the peace and acceptance he has found at NSRH. As a senior, he must begin to envision a life beyond this support network, and the stresses of applying for college and taking the SAT’s have put additional strain on his recovery.
SAM was a league all-star wrestler in ninth grade. A senior now, he likes to brag that he still could run a 5K race while smoking a cigarette — and he probably could. His addictions started at age 8 with alcohol and run the gamut of drugs: opiates, benzos, crack and, most recently, heroin. A member of the yearbook committee, Sam’s interest in photography has helped ground him in a life away from drugs. When he ran away this Fall, NSRH’s photo teacher Devin was able to intercept him at the train station.
FAITH is super smart and a hard worker who is painfully honest and very serious about her recovery. She doesn’t hesitate to take her less committed peers to task. An artist and a singer with a lovely voice, Faith is also a consummate survivor, having been sexually assaulted at age 15 and experienced a near-death heroin overdose. The NSRH senior, who still suffers from anxiety and PTSD, has been sober since April 2017 and plans to become a therapist after college.
SHAWN was the most popular kid at NSRH. He formed deep friendships and could be counted on to put his friends first no matter how much pain he was in – even when it meant putting his own recovery in danger. On April 27th, Principal Lipinski told the students that Shawn had died of an accidental overdose, leaving his devastated classmates and the NSRH faculty to confront the awful reality that sometimes no amount of love, skill and compassion can save a child.
“I’d love to say every one of our kids are on that recovery rainbow, but they’re not,” says Principal Lipinski. “Addiction can be chronic and relapsing.” I ask the kids, ‘Are you looking out for each other? Because I can tell you right now, if one of you falls, you’ve got a dozen people picking you up. We’re going to lean on each other, and we’re going to get each other better.’ I would never give up on a kid. None of us would.”
The results have been encouraging. Of 265 students who have attended NSRH since its founding, 198 have graduated. Of those, more than half are currently stable in their lives, according to ongoing follow up research.
STEVE LISS DIRECTOR/PRODUCER
Steve was a photographer at TIME magazine for 23 years, where he produced more than 40 cover photographs. He was a recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Journalism and is currently an associate professor at Endicott College. In 2016 he directed the documentary SACRED COD, which premiered on the Discovery Channel.
JOHN CONDNE PRODUCER
John is the series producer of the critically acclaimed, AMERICA TO ME, a documentary miniseries that examines race and achievement at an Illinois high school. The film premiered at Sundance and is airing as a ten-part series on the Starz Network. He has been a producer of feature films and documentaries since 1993.
ZAK PIPER PRODUCER
Zak is an Emmy-winning producer who recently produced LIFE ITSELF, for which he received the Producer’s Guild of America award for Outstanding Producer of a Documentary Motion Picture. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was also an Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
LUCY MUNGER EDITOR
Lucy edits for VICE, AMC and MoMa. Her work has screened worldwide, including at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and South by Southwest. FINDING FATHERHOOD, written and edited by Lucy for PBS, was nominated for a regional Emmy in addition to being named Public Service Program of the Year in Colorado
NICHOLAS DORR ASSOCIATE PRODUCER
Nick is a director and designer for stage, film and television. His work has been seen in LIFE IS A HOUSE with Kevin Cline and ALBINO ALIGATOR starring Faye Dunaway. He has produced and directed numerous stage productions both in Los Angeles and New York.
BILL HEALY WRITER
Bill has reported extensively on drug use among suburban high school students for Chicago’s public radio station, WBEZ. He won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for his work on THIS AMERICAN LIFE. Bill currently teaches at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
“Working with Steve was like working with a member of our family. He treated our students and their families with respect and kindness and always listened to their cues to stop a scene because they felt vulnerable. He was able to capture who we are and why we show up to school every day.” Michelle Lipinski, Principal of Recovery High
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Recovery High is produced by Ripple of Hope Films, Inc., a 501(c)3 charitable organization. All contributions to this film are tax deductible.