Updated March 27 at 4:27pm

Five Questions With: Paula Santos

Director of the Anchor Learning Academy talks about the state’s first recovery high school.

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Five Questions With: Paula Santos


The statistics say that Rhode Island has the highest rate of illicit drug use in the nation by adolescents. Currently, there are more than 430 children in residential treatment programs in Rhode Island. All too often, students relapse in a matter of days once they leave treatment programs and return to school.

To help remedy this, the first recovery high school in Rhode Island, the Anchor Learning Academy, has opened at The Providence Center. Providence Business News asked Paula Santos, the director of the Anchor Learning Academy, to talk about the goals and challenges of the new pilot school.

PBN: How have the initial students in the first class at the Anchor Learning Academy responded to the curriculum so far?

SANTOS: Anchor Learning Academy has developed a blended learning approach to the curriculum that allows us to deliver content in a way that meets each student’s needs and learning styles.

In the classroom, students are taught by certified teachers, who are using a virtual learning platform to provide individual instruction.

Hands-on science and art lessons take place through experiential learning opportunities at Save The Bay and RiverzEdge.

Students have told us that being in their community schools with their old friends, makes it too easy to fall back into the patterns of substance abuse.

Anchor Learning Academy is a place where students can be open and honest and that encourages students to make recovery their priority and support each other.

We can already see the results of blended learning and the recovery approach in the students’ decision-making and goal-setting.

PBN: Has there been a lot of community interest in the recovery high school to date? Are the school districts responding with recommended candidates?

SANTOS: Community interest has been really overwhelming. I think people know that we have a problem here in Rhode Island – the highest rates of substance use in the country. And up until now, there was really nothing that could be done for kids who were trying to maintain their recovery and continue their education.

Anchor Learning Academy provides a safe, supportive environment for these kids and school districts, parents, and treatment providers are all responding by referring kids to us.

In fact we have a number of school districts – Warwick and North Providence to name two – that have already referred multiple kids to us.

PBN: How do the school’s finances work?

SANTOS: The legislation that was led by Sen. John Tassoni and Rep. Frank Ferri – and then signed into law by Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee – allows for the per pupil allotment from each school district to follow the student once they are referred to the recovery high school.

In addition, we were fortunate to receive $100,000 from the Rhode Island Foundation to help cover our expenses.

PBN: Are there opportunities for the business community to become engaged with recovery high school students?

SANTOS: Absolutely. Part of goal at the school is to expose our students to the opportunities that are available to them now that they are in recovery and on track to graduate.

On a weekly basis, we have individuals from different professions come in and talk to the students. Just last week we had the head chef from Whole Foods come in and talk about her career, because we know that some of our students are interested in the restaurant industry.

In addition, we are always looking for internship opportunities so that our students as they continue to develop their resumes and gain work skills.

PBN: What are the school’s benchmarks for success?

SANTOS: On the individual basis we want to make sure that our students are able to maintain their recovery while working towards receiving a high school diploma. By accomplishing these two tasks they can literally change the trajectory of their life, and demonstrate the potential this model has to help Rhode Island begin to address the problems caused by substance abuse in our state.


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