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Partnership allows facility residents to pursue college while in treatment

March 29, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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For 13 residents of the Integrity House long-term residential treatment program in New Jersey, morning individual-therapy sessions this spring are being replaced by on-site classroom instruction from professors at Essex County College. Leaders with both the college and the treatment center are finding intense interest among residents in furthering their education, and have discovered previously unrecognized academic skills in the patient population.

“It's a great boost to these patients' self-esteem to know that they are doing something meaningful right now,” Integrity House president and CEO Robert Budsock tells Addiction Professional. “Usually in a treatment setting, these things are put on hold.”

The way in which this partnership came about highlights how the composition of a facility's board of directors can make an important difference in a center's programming. The concept emerged shortly after the college's president, Gale Gibson, joined the Integrity House board of trustees.

“[Budsock] said, 'We've got a lot of clients who have some college or want some college,'” says Douglas Walcerz, Essex County College's vice president for planning, research and assessment. “And it would be great to have it on site, because the patients should stay on site.”

Walcerz adds that there have been few logistical challenges or concerns about making classroom instruction available in the Integrity House setting. “From our perspective, these are Essex County College classrooms populated with Essex County College students,” he says. The participating Integrity House clients enroll in school and register for classes in the same way that every other student does, he says.

Class schedules

The classes that are taught on-site are core language arts and math classes. These classes take place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, and individual therapy sessions are moved to the afternoon for those clients, Budsock says. The students, most of whom according to Budsock range in age from late 20s to mid-30s, also have the opportunity to take an online course in a field of study they are considering pursuing.

The college helped Integrity House update its computer equipment and set up an in-hoise computer lab area. The students therefore receive Internet access that is limited to the purpose of pursuing their studies, he says.

When the program was first conceived, it was thought that the participants might all fall under the category of needing help with basic skills. But the parties have learned that they will need to provide these students with a variety of academic options. “A lot of the students are coming in already at college level,” says Walcerz.

For Integrity House, this effort is serving as a logical extension of an integrated-care approach that emphasizes addressing challenges beyond substance use, from employment readiness to education to housing. The center already expects a larger number of individuals to enroll in classes for the fall semester later this year.

“You can almost point out [the students] in a crowd—they're holding their heads so high,” Budsock says.

It is a testament to how easy it has been to launch this partnership that the most pressing challenge has not been anything related to security or access, but in finding adequate parking for college instructors when they visit. “Right now it really looks all positive and no negative,” says Walcerz.