Kolbe Academy, is located in Bethlehem’s North Side, and provides quality Catholic education, as well as drug and alcohol abuse recovery. There are many students in the area that battle with addiction, so Kolbe was a crucial need in the community. (Annalise Kelloff/B&W Staff)

Nation’s first faith-based recovery high school opens in the Lehigh Valley

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The nation’s first faith-based recovery high school, Kolbe Academy, opened in Bethlehem’s North Side in September 2019 to provide a Catholic education while also focusing on drug and alcohol abuse recovery. 

The school honors St. Maximillian Kolbe, who is the patron saint of people struggling with addiction.

Darlene Ferry, administrator to the principal, said there was a dire need for a school like Kolbe, as many students in the area battle with addiction.

“Students receive one-on-one counseling daily, group therapy is two times a week, and then three times a week, the students are required to stay for two hours after dismissal, where they have different programs for students to engage in a drug- and alcohol-free environment,” Ferry said.

This is the first recovery high school in the Lehigh Valley, the second in Pennsylvania, and one of just 35 nationwide, said Principal John Pertuzzelli. 

Seven students are currently enrolled. However, Kolbe Academy was built to be small, with no more than 90 students, Pertuzzelli said.

“We follow the same diocesan curriculum that the other diocesan schools follow, but we intertwine the focus areas of spirituality, health and wellness, and recovery into each subject matter,” Pertruzzelli said.

Marissa Bruno, ‘20, a Peer Health Advisor at Lehigh and a behavioral neuroscience major, said she has noticed a drug issue in the Bethlehem area concerning teenagers’ smoking habits.

“I think a high school focusing on how to combat addictive qualities is really important, especially because you get rid of the problem at a young age,” Bruno said. “The brain still has a chance at developing normally if these issues are combatted when the students are young enough.”

Kolbe has five classrooms, a gym, a cafeteria, a snack bar and a chapel, Ferry said.

While Kolbe is different from a traditional high school, community events with students and faculty are still facilitated.

Ferry said for the celebration of Catholic Schools Week, there were activities and events with students and staff. There is an upcoming fundraiser to help students and their parents with tuition and the function of the school in general, since it recently opened, she said. 

“We want our students to go through this process of recovery and become successful members of society… That means becoming a contributing member of the community,” Petruzzelli said. “We don’t want the addiction to define our students. We want them to go beyond that and understand that their life is precious, and they can beat their addiction.” 

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