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Getting a second chance at school

September 25, 2012
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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At addiction treatment center Jaywalker Lodge (Carbondale, Colo.), alumni have always played a large role.  Not only do they make up one-third of the staff, but they also assist with leading expeditions and outings, serving as drivers to the men in treatment, and holding alumni-directed counseling groups.  Bob Ferguson, CEO and founder of Jaywalker Lodge, and other staff members at Jaywalker began to notice that after graduating from the treatment program, a disproportionate number of their alumni were not leaving Carbondale.  He says they were clustering together in sober apartments, and coming to after-care programs.

Not only that, but Ferguson and others also noticed that the alumni were starting to attend classes on their own at the local community college, Colorado Mountain College (CMC).  The alumni relations manager gathered the names of recovering individuals who were enrolled either full- or part-time at the college and had recently come from Jaywalker.  This number ended up being 52 individuals over the past two years

Jaywalker then had a meeting with the dean of student affairs and VP for the Roaring Fork region.  When they referenced the list to the school officials, the dean knew who these guys were.  “These were some of their best students,” Ferguson says.   

Ferguson explains that the idea for proceeding to partner with the school on a program came from the inspiration of these alumni.  “If these guys had that much of an appetite for resuming their college education on their own, what might that look like if CMC and Jaywalker Lodge worked collaboratively to create a path for people in early recovery to get back to college? And that’s where Jaywalker U came from.  So, it wasn’t that we sat in a board meeting or had some focus group and on a blank piece of paper we constructed this.  What we’re doing is chasing our alumni and their energy because they’re already looking for ways to complete or continue college after treatment.”


The pilot program

Jaywalker U, which is offered by Jaywalker Lodge in partnership with CMC, currently has six “pioneers” taking classes during the fall semester 2012.  The six students have completed both Jaywalker’s extended treatment program (now a 90-day program), and the Solutions program, which is its transitional living program. 

Applicants to Jaywalker U must have six months of documented sobriety prior to starting college.  “They don’t need to have gotten sober at Jaywalker,” says Ferguson.  “All of them so far have come through Jaywalker, but they don’t need to.  They just need to have come from some kind of program where it is documented.” 

While this pilot program is under way, under construction is a building for students that will be completed in the middle of October and ready for the January semester.  In this 6,000-square-foot building is an integrated student center, which has staff offices, a student lounge, and what Jaywalker calls “the bull pen,” which is a study hall and classroom area designed specifically for 20 sober students to work.  The building also houses a dormitory-style residence hall that accommodates 15 students.  This building is also located on Main Street in Carbondale.  The main college campus where these students will be attending classes is CMC’s Spring Valley Campus, which is located six miles from Jaywalker Lodge.

Jaywalker helps to coordinate the students’ schedules, build in outings and expeditions, help them with transportation to and from the campus, and provide all of the continuing care and sober support services that they need.

The major difference between this program and what other treatment centers have done for college-age individuals, according to Ferguson, lies in the extent of the partnership. Colorado Mountain College has hired a full-time academic counselor whose responsibilities include providing guidance and assistance to Jaywalker U or any student/addict in recovery seeking to return to college.  “So, CMC has a team of five full-time academic counselors on campus, but one of those five is dedicated to any student coming from addiction and recovery,” he says. 

In addition, Jaywalker Lodge has hired a full-time college program director.  Her background is in higher education and substance abuse and prevention and her responsibilities include working with the students enrolled in Jaywalker U.  She will outline the curriculum for the classes that are taught by Jaywalker but accredited by CMC (“The Science of Addiction” during the first semester and “The Science of Recovery” in the second semester), oversee their goals and accountability both individually and as a group, and also assist CMC faculty, students and/or parents with questions about substance abuse.

 “There isn’t a campus in America that couldn’t use a resource specialist in substance abuse and there isn’t a treatment center that couldn’t use a resource specialist in higher education,” Ferguson suggests.  This method will provide benefits to the treatment center because Jaywalker won’t have to spend a lot of time providing academic guidance to their students, because CMC will take care of that.