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5280 High School helping students in recovery

"It's about connection. Recovery is about connection. And we have to be here for one another."

DENVER — As we continue our Classroom Comeback series, we look at a charter high school in Denver that's a first of its kind.

5280 High School is a place for students in grades 9 through 12 in recovery from addiction. About 100 students are enrolled and work together through project-based learning in a substance free environment. The classes are focused on collaboration and hands-on learning. 

As students at 5280 High School faced remote learning in the middle of recovery, the bond between students was fractured during a challenging year with COVID-19. Despite 24/7 support services, a handful of students relapsed.

Ollie, a junior at the school who did not want to provide his last name for the story, struggled with addiction and moved from school to school before finding 5280 High.

"I'm a recovering addict. Thirteen, fourteen, I took off running," he said. "It all started from a wave of depression. I made friends with a bunch of older people in their 20s who made it much more accessible to get harder substances, like acid and mushrooms.”

RELATED: 5280 High School helping students recover from addiction during COVID-19 pandemic

Ollie found solace and sobriety when he arrived at 5280 High School leaning on teachers and other students for support. After the pandemic hit and schools went into remote learning, Ollie says he relapsed.

"When we got thrown into a stay-at-home order, I ended up relapsing at home, just because I was so isolated and I didn't do any school," he said.

Students enrolled in the Summit Program at 5280 High School start most days with a recovery class where they share stories about their struggles.

"Here we like to teach our students how to learn, how to live without substances," said Keith Hayes, Director of Recovery at 5280 High School.

The Summit Program supports the educational needs of teenagers in recovery from addiction, eating disorders, and other similar conditions. The focus is on reflection, remedy, and healing. 

"It's about connection. Recovery is about connection. And we have to be here for one another," Hayes said. 

For Ollie and others at 5280 High School, the return to the classroom is different than most. It's another day of sobriety. He's 18 months sober. 

"I think without 5280 and my sobriety, I would be dead right now," Ollie said.

"Everyone has to have their own bottom. Everyone has to be beaten into their own state of reasonableness as we call it," Hayes said. "And once they're ready to have that, be humble and be willing to open up, that's when you really get to see their life change." 

5280 High School is now in it's fourth year. It relocated from 899 North Broadway to a redesigned location at 1200 West Mississippi in Denver. 

The school will celebrate a milestone this year. Students who joined as freshman when it opened are set to graduate this spring.  

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