Kolbe Academy, America’s first faith-based and first Catholic recovery high school, is looking for a new home.
Kolbe will leave the St. Francis Center on Bridle Path Road, Bethlehem, in June. Principal John Petruzzelli said another school will occupy the 50-acre site. He views Kolbe’s move as a chance to help more students who are recovering from addiction.
“The national model for recovery high schools has been, you go where the need is,” he said. “We now have the opportunity to serve a larger community. We’ve had three really successful years here,” said Petruzzelli, former principal of Bethlehem Catholic High School.
“I’d love to stay in Bethlehem if it works out,” he said, and the school will definitely stay in the Lehigh Valley. Kolbe is one of about 50 high schools across the U.S. that focuses on helping students who have suffered from addiction.
“We don’t have any final plans yet,” he said of the move. “We have a relocation committee put together and we’ve looked at different sites.”
Kolbe has had around 10 students or more each year since it opened in 2019. The long-term goal is for 30, Petruzzelli said. Kolbe has a staff of eight. The St. Francis site is quiet and open, with lots of room, perhaps more than Kolbe needed.
“We’re built to be small. We do have some space we really don’t use a lot,” he said. Kolbe needs three or four classrooms, along with space for a chapel if the next school is not attached to a church, and a gym, kitchen and common area. Being small helped Kolbe get through the COVID-19 pandemic and creates a sense of community, Petruzzelli said.
Tuition at the recovery school is about $15,000 annually, but through fundraising and the generosity of donors, financial aid is available.
“Tuition is not paying our bills,” Petruzzelli said. “We rely on fundraising. The Knights of Columbus have been a big help and parishes have helped.”
On top of that, Kolbe had some very generous founding donors who helped start the program.
“We’re not turning anybody away” for financial reasons, Petruzzelli said. Families can easily spend $30,000 to $50,000 on treatment for children who are addicted, he said, making it difficult to pay a tuition bill.
“We don’t want the parents to think they can’t afford it,” he said.
Petruzzelli said the school has helped young people move past drugs and alcohol to find a productive place in the world.
“Success for me is our four graduates,” he said. “They came to us with addiction problems, they came from treatment.” He went through their accomplishments: two are enrolled in college, one is pursuing professional certifications and a fourth is working in industry.
“These are four kids who were struggling,” he said. “We’re proud of what they’ve done.”
Petruzzelli sees more success in the future, after starting a program from scratch just a few years ago with no school, students, faculty or money.
“Our kids love coming to school, and they love Kolbe. With this move, we’ve found out that the kids are more resilient than the adults,” he said.
“They are looking forward to what’s next. They want to be a part of the move and setting up a new school,” he said “Every once in awhile, the kids teach us a lesson.”