February 20, 2019 by HCDE-Texas
Cy Lopez, 18, found out about Harris County’s first public recovery high school through his therapy group while recovering from addiction.
The bright, determined young man, who takes advanced academic courses, visited the school called Fortis Academy after trying to return to his home school in north Houston while recovering from his addiction. There, peer pressure provided too much temptation.
“He’s been one of our leaders here since joining our school this year,” said Anthony Moten, principal at Fortis, a Latin term associated with strength, courage and determination.
Fortis is building its student roster this year as Harris County Department of Education administrators spread the word about the campus in the 25 school districts it serves, who send students to Fortis on a contractual basis. The school represents a huge paradigm shift in treating substance abuse.
“It’s moving educators to understand a punitive-discipline model versus a restorative-therapeutic model,” said James Colbert Jr., superintendent of HCDE and a strong proponent of the recovery school.
The school combines counseling, recovery coaching and academics in a low, student-to-faculty ratio for students who have completed substance abuse or dependency rehab programs. The goal is for students to continue their high school education in a sober environment.
Omar Lopez, Cy’s father, attends meetings with his son and counselors at the school. One of the school’s foundational principles is that it is important for parents to be active in their children’s sobriety.
“The main thing about this school is the support it gives to kids to stay sober,” said Omar as he visits his son at the school. “He is doing good with his grades and being sober.”
Fortis has all the academic elements of a regular high school, with certified classroom teachers for core subjects. Small classes are coupled with computer electives, including physical education. Last month the school opened its culinary component, a kitchen where students get certified in safety and sanitation before learning to cook and bake. In the kitchen, students come together as a team and collaborate as they gain new skills to bolster their preparation for life after high school, as well as their self-esteem.
Senior Juan Garcia finds his cooking skills handy in winning the approval of his girlfriend, he said while learning to make crepes. Garcia will be the school’s first graduate, walking the stage in May at his home school in Galena Park ISD.
Cy’s father is impressed by the culinary program at Fortis and appreciative of the recovery support his son receives each day. He’s a strong advocate for public recovery high schools such as Fortis, even though they are relatively rare, with only three in the state of Texas.
“Private recovery schools are not affordable for many people,” he said. “What you don’t know, you don’t know, and more people should know about this school. Recovery education has to be shared with low-income parents too.”
He points to the benefits to taxpayers with public recovery schools tackling problems of addiction early on versus having residents go through the penal system later.
“The amount of taxpayer money we can be saving by having these kids here for four years versus 10 years in jail is amazing,” he said, circling his arms to demonstrate the greater good. “Can’t you see the difference in the money and lives saved?”
Omar insists his son Cy is learning how to live a good life without drugs or alcohol, despite the temptations of society. He credits Fortis for that change in attitude and said one of the greatest benefits of the school is Cy’s ability to have a personalized recovery coach and meetings at the school during the day.
Cy said this model allows for problems to be tackled head on.
“We share what we’re going through, and they give us feedback and help us learn to deal with issues,” he said. “They listen to me, and I listen.”
For more information about Fortis Academy, go to www.hcde-texas.org/schools/fortis-academy.