School offers high-risk students second chance

May 22, 2010 7:50:54 PM PDT
Every year, thousands of Houston teenagers drop out of school, get in trouble with the law, join a gang and find themselves addicted to drugs and alcohol. Sadly, many of these kids never make a turnaround, but Houston's Archway is determined to do just that: Change kids' lives, one student at a time.

"I started drinking whenever I was 14," Archway Academy senior Megan Maanao said.

It always starts way too early. Maanao said she was using Xanax, weed, acid and Ecstasy. Her classmate, senior Andrew Warren, said he, too, smoked marijuana and took a variety of pills.

"I lived with a drug dealer that I met," said another classmate, Erin Skidmore.

It's a sad existence, but they're snapshots of true life.

"I didn't think I had anything to live for," senior Collin Thoene said.

Thoene even went to the extreme of wanting to end his life.

"I was miserable, couldn't deal with it anymore," he said.

These students were thrown away, into a life of crime, drugs and gangs. But not anymore.

"I feel like a completely different person, honestly," Thoene said.

Ironically, this change happened, and amazingly it happened at a high school.

"When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them, 'I run a school full of kids with drug and alcohol issues,' you'd be surprised at the faces," Archway Academy Executive Director Sasha McLean said. "But we truly believe that kids, given the right type of setting, given the right type of support, and the right type of personal purpose, can do amazing things."

And amazing it is. These students have come from a dead-end life to a life of promise.

"I want to be able to stay sober the rest of my life," Maanao said.

The statistics here are actually quite remarkable: 93 percent sobriety rate; 100 percent of seniors graduating, 90 percent of those attending a university, and the percentage of those who drop out or are kicked out is less than 12 percent.

School, if you can believe it, has brought these kids back to life.

The day begins and ends with a prayer. The classes are small, and the dialogue is constant and open.

"I have an amazing support group," Skidmore said. "Everything is just so much better."

And the kids seem happier. And they say they now feel like they're good kids, too.

"It's a completely different life than I used to have, and it's definitely better," Thoene said.

"I never would have stayed sober without it," said senior Kristen Goree.

But where would these kids be if they weren't at the academy?

"A lot of these kids would probably be in jail," McLean said. "Some would be dead."

But not now. Now, these kids have dreams.

"I have this dream that I'll have a really nice suit on, and I'll be in my own office listening to classical music," Warren said.

They're remarkable students now with remarkable lives. And the academy is doing it one dream at a time.

"I want to be able to do the things I want to do," Goree said.

Archway Academy is made up of only 60 students, 18 of which are seniors. They will all be graduating next week.


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