October 1, 2021 by HCDE-Texas
The term “Fortis” in Latin means “strong.” Used figuratively, it can also mean “courageous” or “steadfast.” When describing Fortis Academy, Harris County’s first public high school for students recovering from alcohol and drug addiction, it means a safe place for students to find the strength and courage to confront their challenges with the support of people they can trust.
Fortis Academy Principal Travita Godfrey uses her experience as a counselor to build that trust.
“I feel like this is a place of refuge for them,” said Godfrey. “It takes so much courage to admit that you have a problem and then to get help at [a] young age. For them to want to do that as teenagers is phenomenal to me. If they don’t trust us and feel like we’re going to support them, they don’t tell us when they’re having issues, and we can’t rally around them. I want to have that open-door policy so when they’re struggling, they will come to me.”
Godfrey, a licensed chemical dependency counselor, possesses a more comprehensive understanding of Fortis students’ challenges than a typical administrator. She hopes that students will see her as someone they can confide in and enjoy being with rather than associate her with punitive discipline.
“I’ll sit on the floor or the bean bag chairs with them. I don’t mind. I just want them to know that we’re a team,” said Godfrey. “It’s not the principal or teachers versus the students. It’s a Fortis family.”
Godfrey works hard to build rapport with the entire recovery school community, including families and school staff. She aims to create a supportive space where all feel valued.
Since her arrival less than three months ago, Godfrey has implemented restorative practices on her campus and ongoing staff training such as trauma intervention.
Sometimes, students experiment with substances because they’re trying to forget something traumatic that happened to them. Trauma intervention training helps teachers recognize triggers and how trauma affects the brain. Godfrey’s goal is to prepare her teachers for any situation and make them feel they have the tools to navigate it.
Fortis Academy Academic Counselor Nakia Francis shares her appreciation for her new principal.
“Mrs. Godfrey is a wonderful person to work for,” said Francis. “She’s very compassionate and thoughtful, and she’s made a great impact on the students and staff here. Her care and concern, the way she talks to people and gets them to interact, and the way she keeps the campus focused are really special.”
Francis thinks highly of the experience Godfrey brings to the school.
“We kind of share a bond because she’s been a counselor, and I’ve been a counselor,” said Francis. “Counselors look through a different lens. We try to make kids whole.”
Godfrey wants her student’s parents, or any families struggling with substance abuse, to know that the open-door policy extends to them. The fear of the stigma surrounding addiction prevents some families from coming forward when their students need help, but Godfrey wants to dismantle that ideology.
“Addiction can happen to any person. It doesn’t matter who your parents are, where you live, or how much money you have or don’t have,” she said. “It can affect any family. So, we hope that every family in Harris County would feel comfortable enough to send their students to Fortis.”
Beyond the recovery community, Godfrey hopes to bolster Fortis’ reputation for preparing students for life beyond graduation. When talking about her current students’ potential, she described them as “the cream of the crop.”
“I hope we’re known not just as a treatment center or a place to get sober, but a place to learn, grow and prepare for life outside of high school,” she said. “We’re helping them look at different careers, and we have a few students interested in going to college. So, we ask what that path looks like and how we can personalize that for each student so that when they graduate, they have whatever tools and skills they need to be successful in whatever path they choose.”
Being a new principal is not without challenges, but Godfrey says the level of accessibility and personal support she receives from HCDE makes her feel that anything is possible.
“I feel like my growth and potential is unlimited because I’m so connected with people who are great leaders,” she said. “I’m ready to grow. I’m being watered.”