In an effort to provide new hope and opportunity for area high school students recovering from addiction, dozens of state, county and local officials joined together on Brookdale’s Lincroft campus on Jan. 11 to cut the ribbon on the new K.E.Y.S. Academy, the first ever Recovery High School in Monmouth County.
K.E.Y.S., an acronym for “Knowledge Empowers Youth and Sobriety,” is designed to provide a safe, supportive environment for students in recovery to complete their high school education while avoiding the pressures – and risks – of returning to a familiar setting.
The school, run by the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District and the nonprofit Right Your Life organization in partnership with Brookdale, offers a full curriculum along with dedicated teachers, counselors and support staff trained in addiction services.
“I know what addiction looks like,” said Jennise Nieves, a student assistant counselor for the school district who grew up in a home marred by drug abuse. “I know what it looks like for a student to work so hard in a [recovery] program, then come back to that same environment and relapse the same day. After attending various funeral services, I realized that this is not enough. I’m not OK with this. We have to do something more.”
Following years of effort, along with a $1.3 million grant award by the New Jersey Department of Education, the academy will officially open its doors this month with an inaugural class of four students. Housed in dedicated classroom space in the Bankier Library, K.E.Y.S hopes to accomodate as many as 15 students in the coming year. According to Nieves, one student not only expects to graduate this spring, but will begin taking college-level Brookdale courses throughout the coming semester.
“Programs like this are just so important to save lives,” said Kimberly Kruesi, a practicing nurse and mother of one of the newest K.E.Y.S. students, during an official ribbon cutting ceremony in the library.
“My son went away to get help, and when he came out, my biggest fear was ‘Where will he go to school? What will happen in two months or three weeks?’… That’s what we’re doing here. We’re saving lives and we’re giving our kids a future and hope. I see the students here now, and I want to tell you that you are young, you’re bright, and you’re worth it.”
The ceremony featured addresses from a wide range of speakers and stakeholders, including school district Superintendent Joseph Majka and Assistant Superintendent Nelyda Perez, Right Your Life board members Kathleen Loures and Joseph Ferraina, interim Brookdale President David Stout and Lt. Gov. Kimberly Guadagno.
Guadagno, a Monmouth County native who fought alongside Gov. Chris Christie to launch statewide addiction and treatment initiatives in response to New Jersey’s ongoing opiate epidemic, said she was proud to see the K.E.Y.S. Academy grow from concept to reality.
“Monmouth County is one of the top six counties in the state which suffer from recovery or codependency issues,” said Guadagno, who joined the Christie administration is awarding millions of dollars in grant funding for similar programing across the Garden State.
“Many of them are in our own backyard and even within our own homes… I congratulate all of you for making this a reality. Without a home, all the talk in the world and all the money in the world isn’t going to make it happen. I am proud to be a part of it and I hope to stay a part of it. I wish you all the success in the world. The lives of our children, all of our children, depend on it.”
Newly elected state Assemblywoman and former Monmouth County Freeholder Serena DiMaso was also on hand to present K.E.Y.S. representatives with an official assembly resolution, co-signed by state assembly members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey, in recognition of their groundbreaking achievement.
Other dignitaries in attendance included representatives from the Brookdale Board of Trustees; the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders; the Matawan Aberdeen School District; and the New Jersey Department of Education. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Matawan High School student musicians Bryanna Long and Gina Monforte.
“Everyday heroes are those people who see a problem and refuse to stand there and let it happen,” said Stout. “I want to thank the all of the everyday heroes who made this happen, and welcome these deserving students to our campus with open arms. You will have a learning environment that is beautiful, safe and provides all the support you need to continue your education. It is an incredible honor for Brookdale to be a part of this.”
Learn more about the K.E.Y.S. Academy here.
View more photos from the Ribbon Cutting ceremony here.