Kolbe Academy Celebrates First Graduating Class

Kolbe Academy marked a momentous occasion in July as Joel Maldonado and Trent Walker, the school’s first graduating class, received their diplomas as part of a Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement Ceremony.

The ceremony was attended by the families of both graduates; school faculty and board members; Dr. Brooke Tesché, Chancellor of Catholic Education; and Bishop Alfred Schlert.

“This was certainly an exciting day for our entire school community. To see our first two graduates accept their diplomas was a highlight to this amazing journey of opening our school,” said John Petruzzelli, Principal.

The school opened its doors one year ago as the first faith-based recovery high school in the nation, serving high school students in recovery from drug and alcohol addictions. “Despite bumps in the road, a pandemic, and battling isolation, our graduates worked to overcome every obstacle they encountered to reach this milestone day,” Petruzzelli said.

Maldonado has been accepted into East Stroudsburg University, while Walker is paving a new way for Kolbe graduates to join the workforce by inaugurating a new Careers Awareness Program being implemented by the school.

“Everyone’s been reflecting on the first year of Kolbe Academy. It was very exciting and then COVID-19 hit,” noted Dr. Tesché. “We had a choice on how we were going to respond. So we paused, we pivoted, we persevered, and we continued to pray.

“Providentially, the first year of Kolbe Academy is very much like the first year of recovery because it’s amazing at first — being clean and sober and getting this clarity, you get a sense of peace of freedom. Everything is going really well and then life and challenges hit.  Like Kolbe, young people in recovery have to pause, pivot, persevere, and pray.”

“This is a tremendous moment in history,” stated Bishop Schlert as he congratulated the graduates and their families. “This whole beautiful undertaking at Kolbe Academy has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. Trent and Joel, you’re pioneers that blaze the trail for those who come after you. I want to thank you, and thank your parents and families for trusting your loved ones to us.”

“Our Catholic belief in the dignity of every human person,” Bishop Schlert said, “is why Kolbe Academy exists, to nurture the dignity of the human person created in God’s image and likeness.”

“I am overwhelmed with the goodness of God to see our first graduates achieve this goal in their lives,” said Petruzzelli. “With their focus, drive and determination, there will be many more successes they will celebrate. Kolbe Academy is very proud of these two graduates as they continue to live out the Kolbe motto: Recover, Succeed, Transform.”

Kolbe Academy is part of the Diocese of Allentown Catholic School System and serves students of all faiths. It is named after St. Maximilian Kolbe who is recognized as the patron saint of those who battle addictions.

For more information about Kolbe Academy, call 610-419-3333, email info@kolbe-academy.com, or visit www.kolbe-academy.com.

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Kolbe Academy is first Catholic high school for teens battling addictions

Four years ago John Petruzzelli saw the movie “Generation Found,” a documentary about people in Houston, Texas, who came together to start a revolution in youth recovery from addictions. Their model included a system of treatment centers, recovery programs and Archway Academy, a sober learning environment for high school students.

“I remember walking out of the theater and saying that this was really incredible, and that I wanted to do something like that someday,” he said.

He never expected, he added, that the Diocese of Allentown in eastern Pennsylvania would open a recovery high school, and that the documentary would be his inspiration to take a leap of faith to become part of the project.

Catholic recovery school

Kolbe Academy in Bethlehem, the first faith-based and Catholic-run high school in a network of about 60 recovery schools nationally recognized, will open its doors for the 2019-20 school year.

Students are being accepted for grades 9-12, and open enrollment will allow qualifying students to enter at any time during the school year.

The school will welcome youth of all faiths from all across the Lehigh Valley, Bishop Alfred Schlert said, “not because they are Catholic but because we are Catholic.”

Kolbe Academy is named after St. Maximilian Kolbe, patron saint of the pro-life movement, prisoners and people struggling with addiction. He was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar who was imprisoned in the German death camp of Auschwitz during World War II, and who gave his life by standing in for another prisoner who was sentenced to death.

The high school will fill a crucial need in the area, which has a number of services for adults but needs more programs for youth.

“Pennsylvania is the third-highest in the nation in the number of overdose deaths,” said Dr. Brooke Tesche, the diocesan chancellor of education. “We have Kolbe Academy working collaboratively with the state and the county to have an innovative response to kids age 12-17 who are in recovery from marijuana, alcohol, opioids and street narcotics.”

High schools generally have few in-house programs specifically for those students. Tesche, who came to the diocese seven years ago after working in special education in the public system, noted that these students are often placed in special education or emotional support programs. But that’s still in their previous environment.

Specially trained staff

“Research shows that when students go into treatment and then back into the same environment, they have less [than] a 20% chance of staying clean and sober,” Tesche said. “When they’re in recovery high schools, the chances for success are 85%. The data shows that this model works. Our bishop, with his passion around Catholic education, was committed to starting the first Catholic recovery high school in the nation.”

Petruzzelli has been with the diocese for nine years. He’s been in education for 30 years, 17 in administration, and was principal of Bethlehem Catholic High School for seven years. He’s been involved with planning Kolbe Academy for the past two years.

Teachers have received special training, drug counselors are on staff and the diocese is partnering with Mid-Atlantic Rehabilitation Services in Bethlehem.

The school is in a building on the 50-acre grounds of the St. Francis Center for Renewal that was founded by the School Sisters of St. Francis based in Pittsburgh. Their provincial, Sister Frances Marie Duncan, is on the Kolbe Academy board.

“The sisters have been very supportive and have incredible excitement about us being on campus and being part of their community,” Petruzzelli said. “I think it’s a special blessing to what we are doing to see faithful women supporting us. While they won’t be directly involved in the academy, they will be visible and it’s important for the kids to see them.”

Students are eligible for enrollment if they have been clean for at least 30 days, verified through a program, counselor or other professional. In addition to state-required classes, they’ll study theology and have Christ-centered support and programs.


Tesche cites research data that points to the role that spirituality plays in recovery.

“Many addicts in long-term recovery, defined as 10 years or more, attribute their success to a spiritual component, so there’s a direct correlation,” she said. “I put that in a strong academic environment. So Kolbe Academy will have the spiritual component, recovery best-practice and academic excellence in our diocesan curriculum.”

Students can earn privileges, such as being permitted to drive to school or have extended lunch times. There’s a code of conduct and there will be random drug tests, but students will not be expelled if they relapse.

“We’ll work with students and their families to ensure that they get the best services they need,” she said.

The diocese is seeking donations and grants to provide scholarships and aid to cover the tuition, which is set at $15,000 to $16,000.

“We were getting a grant from a source that gave us $75,000 and they came back and said that they love what we’re doing and wanted to give us $150,000,” Petruzzelli said.

That unexpected blessing was one of the “God moments,” he added, that they have encountered on the journey.

Tesche witnessed blessings when a hesitant community, once informed of what a recovery school meant, threw in their support and even stepped up to volunteer.

“Two of our board members privately shared with me that they lost a child to an overdose,” she said. “So this is clearly an opportunity for God’s hand to bring healing to their lives, and for them to make a difference in the community. That really touched my heart.”

By: OSV News Weekly

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Readin’. Writin’. Recovery: Faith-based high school new option for Lehigh Valley students battling addiction

In the last year, three former students of John Petruzzelli have died from drug overdoses in their 30s.

The deaths hit Petruzzelli hard, and he hopes a new faith-based recovery high school where he will be the principal will save Lehigh Valley students from a similar fate.

“It was a tough year,” Petruzzelli said.

As the Lehigh Valley and the rest of the country battle an opioid epidemic, the Allentown Diocese is opening Kolbe Academy in Hanover Township, Northampton County. Starting next month, the school will offer students counseling, support and individualized plans to stay sober.

The school, which recently moved into the former St. Francis Academy, will accept 90-100 students in ninth to 12th grades. All must already have gone through some type of treatment and be sober at least 30 days before enrolling.

Kolbe leaders say they already received more than 100 inquiries, and will be evaluating students’ academic and recovery needs in deciding admission. Mid-Atlantic Rehabilitation Services Addiction Treatment Programs will conduct screenings and assessments for students.

A typical school day will start at 8 a.m. with daily check-ins from a teacher to see how students are doing. Students will then take academic classes such as science, history, English and math in classrooms with at least one wall painted purple, the color of recovery. While Kolbe will require students to take a theology class and there will be a chaplain on staff, students do not need to be Catholic to attend.

But what sets Kolbe and other recovery high schools apart from traditional schools is that students will receive counseling one-on-one, with peers and even for families. The school, employing six full-time staff members, will have a part-time certified recovery specialist.

Kolbe Academy, which takes its name from St. Maximilian Kolbe, the patron saint of people with addictions, is not a treatment center, but students will receive individualized plans to help them stay sober. Students also will be randomly drug tested.

“If they relapse, they won’t get kicked out,” Petruzzelli said.

Three days a week, students will have after-school activities such as yoga, hiking or intramural sports. Petruzzelli and Brooke Tesche, chancellor for Catholic education for the Diocese of Allentown, visited recovery high schools in Houston, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Massachusetts that had similar after-school activities to encourage students to have fun sober.

The recovery high school opens as the Lehigh Valley, like most regions in the nation, battles an opioid epidemic. For the first time in five years, drug deaths have dropped across Pennsylvania. Fatal overdoses in the state are down more than 23% in 2018, according to the state’s opioid data dashboard, which compiles prevention, rescue and treatment information, and documents deaths. While the number likely will rise slightly after toxicology reports are completed, 4,267 people in Pennsylvania died from drug overdoses in 2018, nearly 1,300 fewer than the previous year.

Northampton County investigated 81 drug-related deaths in 2018, while Lehigh County recorded 160 cases.

That seemed to be the trend nationwide as well. Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows there were more than 68,000 drug overdose deaths in 2018, down from more than 70,000 overdose deaths in 2017.

Tuition at Kolbe Academy will be $15,000-$16,000. Petruzzelli said the school is looking into offering scholarships and financial aid because it does not want cost to be a hindrance for parents.

Kolbe officials have reached out to school districts in the Lehigh Valley about being an additional resource for students. Bethlehem Area Superintendent Joseph Roy said the district uses the Colonial Academy, run through the Colonial Intermediate Unit, for students with drug and alcohol use, but he sees Kolbe as filling a niche among students and their families.

“I am supportive because Kolbe is a community resource and a choice for parents, at their cost or through a Kolbe scholarship, to help a child in recovery,” Roy said.

Students will be allowed to graduate from Kolbe. Because the school will be small and offer a culture of support, Tesche believes it will remove triggers traditional high schools might have that could lead to students relapsing.

“These are the kids who want to get clean and sober,” Tesche said. “And it’s hard in other schools when there are peers actively using and not interested in stopping.”

That’s typically why recovery high schools are successful, said Andy Finch, a professor at Vanderbilt University who has studied recovery high schools. Studies have shown that recovery high schools have a positive impact on students, and that can be attributed to the small class sizes and support systems.

“You’ve created a culture of peers who are … trying to change their alcohol and drug use, and trying to stop,” Finch said. “When a kid starts to struggle, people are aware of it.”

The first recovery high school in the country opened in the 1979. Now, 45 operate nationwide. A number of them, Finch said, opened after the Great Recession and during the opioid crisis.

Kolbe Academy, at 395 Bridle Path Road, will have three open houses next month, with the first 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 10. There will also be open houses 5-7 p.m. Aug. 13 and 15.

By: The Morning Call

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Allentown Diocese to open recovery high school, 2nd of its kind in the state

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Recovering from an addiction is difficult, especially if you are a teen.

The Diocese of Allentown is trying to help by opening the Lehigh Valley’s first recovery high school.

The Kolbe Academy is a Catholic school, but the school population will consist of teens from all faiths.

The walls of the school are painted a bright purple. It’s more than a paint job, it’s a symbol of recovery.

Kolbe Academy is one of only two recovery high schools in the state and 35 in the nation.

Next month, it will open its doors for its first batch of students.

“Students that have alcohol problems, maybe marijuana, opioids, the full scheme,” said Kolbe Principal John Petruzzelli.

While the finishing touches are being made on the school itself, the services necessary to help recovering high school students are already in place.

School officials say a partnership with the state, Northampton and Lehigh counties as well as Mid Atlantic Rehabilitation Services is firmly in place to help students.

“The goal of this School is to save lives. To get the students early, provide the intervention that they need so that they can in fact recover and live healthy lives,” said Brooke Tesche, Allentown Diocese Chancellor of Catholic Education.

But Tesche says often times helping the student also means helping the family.

Counseling options extend outside the school grounds to support family and even friends of the students.

As students advance in grade and  recovery, they will help younger students do the same.

Academics are just as important as the recovery at Kolbe.

“You know it’s state approved they’re going to get a state approved diploma from Kolbe and we’re going to prepare them whether they want to go on to college, what do they want to go on into the workforce, the military they will have all the credits they need,” said Petruzzelli.

Kolbe Academy is slated to open August 26 and already it has more than 100 inquiries for placement.

By: Channel 69
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The Kolbe Academy

Allentown Diocese to open drug/alcohol recovery high school

The Diocese of Allentown announced in a press event Friday the planned opening of the nation’s first Catholic-run high school for students recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

The Kolbe Academy will open its doors next September to up to 90 ninth-12th grade students in need of an environment specifically designed to cater to recovery, where curriculum, staff and counselors are all focused on teens in need.

Diocese Department of Education Deputy Superintendent of Secondary and Special Education Dr. Brooke Tesche began work on the project two years ago.

“As I spent my career working, I’ve seen kids struggling with drugs and alcohol in their lives,” she said. “And when these students struggle, our teachers do their best to try to meet their needs. However, despite their best efforts and the depth of their caring, the system is not designed for their needs.

“We do have excellent resources in Lehigh and Northampton counties, but the majority of our providers’ expertise is working with adults,” she said, though both counties’ drug and alcohol offices have participated in the program’s development.

Such students are usually placed in special education or behavioral or emotional support programs in their school districts, she explained, where only about 20 percent of them are able to progress without relapse. Recovery high schools have around an 85 percent successful recovery rate, and offer continuous supports, Tesche said.

“Our children need a program that will specialize in the challenges they have. They need a recovery high school,” she said. “Lehigh Valley children deserve a recovery high school.”

Kolbe Academy will have a certified principal, teachers and support staff, and will be a tuition-based school at a cost of about $15,000-$16,000 per year. This is comparable to standard Catholic education with recovery and counseling components. It is also about what a family might expect to pay for a month of treatment. Financial aid, grants and work directly with districts are all expected to be available to help tuition affordable, Tesche said.

School days will be full – from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. – with transportation provided by student’s home districts or parents; the latter being mandatory for applicants from beyond the Lehigh Valley.

Referrals may come to the academy from schools, parents, churches, the Diocese’ intermediate units or other referral agencies or providers. Applicants must have proof of a minimum of 30 days sobriety before they will be considered, but students of all faiths and none may participate.

Allentown Diocese Bishop Alfred Schlert, present at the event, said, “The Diocese of Allentown is blessed to be able to offer this, recognizing the need of so many families in the Lehigh Valley. All will be welcome here. Not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic, are we offering this service to the people of the Lehigh Valley and beyond.”

The Kolbe Academy will open at the former site of the St. Francis Academy on Bridle Path Road in Hanover Township, taking over the lease of Mullen Hall with Diocesan finances.

By: Bethlehem Press
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1st Catholic high school for students battling addiction opening in Bethlehem area

The nation’s first Catholic high school for students in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction is planned to open for fall 2019 outside Bethlehem.

Diocese of Allentown officials on Friday announced the creation of Kolbe Academy, on its Monocacy Manor campus along Bridle Path Road in Hanover Township, Northampton County.

“The Diocese of Allentown is blessed to be able to offer this, recognizing the need … of so many families in the Lehigh Valley, families who may be Catholic, who may be of another faith, who may be of no faith,” diocese Bishop Alfred Schlert said. “All will be welcome here, not because they are Catholic but because we are Catholic, are we offering this service to the people of the Lehigh Valley and beyond.”

Friday’s announcement comes at a difficult time for this and five other dioceses across Pennsylvania, following a grand jury probe that found claims of sexual abuse against 301 priests dating to the 1940s.

The United States has about 60 high schools dedicated to students in recovery, said Brooke Tesche, deputy superintendent of education for the diocese. As a Catholic high school sharing that mission, Kolbe Academy is the first of its kind, according to the Association of Recovery Schools based in Houston, Texas.

“It is unique in the fact that it will be the first faith-based high school in the United States for students in recovery from addiction,” township Manager John “Jay” Finnigan said at Friday’s announcement at Monocacy Manor.

Serving grades ninth through 12th, Kolbe Academy will be open to students from across the diocese’s five counties: Northampton, Lehigh, Berks, Carbon and Schuylkill.

School districts whose borders come within a 10-mile radius of the school will be responsible for busing students there, said Philip J. Fromuth, the diocese’s superintendent of Catholic education. That’s about 15 districts, he said. Interested families in the diocese beyond that boundary would be responsible for their students’ transportation.

The school will be accredited by the Middle States Association, and students who complete their coursework will receive a diploma in addition to support for their recovery from addiction.

“Our system is not meeting the needs of our students,” Tesche said. “We do have excellent resources in Lehigh and Northampton county but the majority of our providers’ expertise is working with adults. We need to expand supports for our youth.

“They need a program that will specialize in the challenges they have with this disease and supporting lifelong recovery. We need a recovery high school. The Lehigh Valley children deserve a recovery high school.”

Tesche, who moved into Catholic eduction from a career in public schools, shared statistics that students who enter treatment then return to their previous school environment have a 20 percent chance of avoiding relapse.

“But when students go into treatment and they’re ready to go back to school and they go to a recovery high school, it’s over 85 percent chance of staying sober,” she said. “Those statistics are astounding. This works.”

Students will pay tuition of $15,000 to $16,000, comparable to the diocese’s other high schools, according to Tesche. That’s also how much a 28-day treatment program can cost families, she said.

The diocese expects financial aid to be available, and Kolbe Academy will have room for 90 students in Mullen Hall. Formerly St. Francis Academy, the building is now home to Covenant Christian Academy under a lease that ends June 30, 2019.

The diocese has 40 elementary and high schools in its territory. This is its first new school to open since Immaculate Conception Academy opened in 2003 in Douglassville, Berks County, said Fromuth. The diocese this year also relocated its St. Jerome Regional School from Tamaqua to Rush Township, in Schuylkill County, the (Pottsville) Republican Herald reports.

The logo for Kolbe Academy is projected during an announcement Sept. 7, 2018, about the new Catholic high school for students in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction in Hanover Township, Northampton County, outside Bethlehem. (Kurt Bresswein | For lehighvalleylive.com)

About the name

Kolbe Academy is named for St. Maximilian Kolbe, the patron saint of those with addiction. Its logo features a phoenix: “It’s a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated and born again. In history the phoenix is often used to symbolize renewal in general, as well as the resurrection to new life in Christ,” Tesche said. The logo’s colors of purple and blue represent, respectively, recovery and the Virgin Mary.

By: Lehigh Valley Live

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Allentown Diocese to open addiction recovery high school

When school starts next September, Lehigh Valley students in recovery from drug and alcohol addictions will be able to attend the Lehigh Valley’s first recovery high school, something experts say could improve their chances of surviving an increasingly deadly opioid crisis.

The Allentown Diocese on Thursday announced plans to open a recovery school — dedicated to helping students who have undergone addiction treatment — at Mullen Hall in the former St. Francis Academy in Hanover Township, Northampton County.

The school, to be called Kolbe Academy, will be the first faith-based recovery high school in the United States, where there are 60 secular recovery schools, according to a release from the diocese. Eighty-five percent of students who attend recovery schools after treatment maintain their sobriety, the release said.

Students who live in and outside the diocese will be allowed to attend the school, which would be the seventh school for grades 9-12 in the diocese, regardless of their faith.

The diocese’s announcement came as Catholic schools have faced decades of declining enrollment and closed or consolidated across the country, including in Allentown.

Students of the recovery high school will pay tuition akin to that of other Catholic day schools, said Linda Johnson, founder of the nonprofit Voices for Change, who is helping the diocese launch the school.

Tuition may be higher to cover costs of counseling, but Johnson said the diocese would offer financial help to students who need it. Students will have to be free from drugs and alcohol for at least 30 days before attending the school, she said.

Adolescents are among those affected by the opioid crisis, which experts say has highlighted the need for addiction prevention and treatment programs. In 2017, there were 109 drug-related deaths in Northampton County, an increase of 56 percent from 2016, while Lehigh County had 197 drug-related deaths, a rise of 25 percent. The deaths were largely fueled by the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

The school, slated to open in September 2019, is welcome news for Lehigh Valley students battling drug and alcohol addiction, said Lisa Wolff, senior manager of special programs for the Center for Humanistic Change. It will help remove students from the people and places where they had been using drugs or alcohol.

“Anecdotally, most kids get their drugs from friends or at school,” she said.

That’s why going to school in a supportive environment, where teachers and peers understand the challenges of addiction recovery, is key, she said. Without a sobriety-focused environment, relapse is almost certain, she said.

Wolff, who leads the Center for Humanistic Change’s opioid programming, said the nonprofit plans to partner with the diocese to help teachers learn about addiction, recovery and trauma. She hopes to host life-skills and addiction programs for students, too.

If the family doesn’t heal and the family doesn’t understand what’s going on, that can really destroy a family.

A school day at the Hanover Township recovery high school will look similar to one at a regular high school, said Johnson of Voices for Change. Students will get their education, but also have group and individual counseling sessions and sober after-school programs.

The diocesan effort — which Johnson said is led by Brooke Tesche, the diocese’s deputy superintendent for secondary and special education — will provide options for students attending high schools that don’t have the resources to help them through recovery.

It will also help their families, she said. Johnson would know — her son is in recovery from an addiction that started while he was in high school. Healing the family is vital, she said.

“They’re going to have that family support [through the school],” she said. “If the family doesn’t heal and the family doesn’t understand what’s going on, that can really destroy a family. It truly can. It comes in like a tornado running through your lives, just destroying everything it touches.”

Kolbe Academy is named after St. Maximilian Kolbe, the patron saint of those with addiction.

By: Morning Call
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