Originally created 08/30/99

School seeks to help former addicts



For the first time in years, Anita McKendry is excited about returning to school.

While she always maintained good grades, most of the 17-year-old's academic career has been spent in a cloud of drugs and alcohol.

"Drugs are very, very easy to find these days and the ages are getting younger and younger," Anita said. "I'm wondering what it's going to be like when I get older."

Until recently, Anita -- who's been sober for almost eight months after more than four years of substance abuse -- was worried about returning to Evans High School and facing the same peer pressure she felt in the past.

But now, she has another option.

On Sept. 7, the Polestar Center opens on Camilla Avenue in Martinez and will cater to middle and high school students recovering from substance abuse. The school is affiliated with the Polestar Center for Experiential Education in Atlanta, which opened in 1997 with three students and now has 60.

"I'm really excited about it because I'll be going to school with friends who will help me stay sober," said Anita, who got an afternoon job to help her parents pay for tuition.

The school has nine students from the Augusta area who are committed to attend. An open house will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday for parents and students. While the school is nonprofit, it will charge $375 tuition per month to cover costs.

"We're starting on a shoestring," said Alan Faircloth, the school's director. "We're not a treatment program. We're just in the education business."

Mr. Faircloth -- who teaches special education at Harlem Middle School in Columbia County -- is part of an informal support group for parents of children recovering from substance abuse.

He and the other parents began discussing the need for a school like Polestar in May. In July, Mr. Faircloth got a $5,000 bank loan, hired a teacher and got the school accredited by the Accrediting Commission on Independent Study. Students will be eligible for high school diplomas and college admission.

The school will use a method of teaching called experiential education -- an adventure-based method similar to Outward Bound. Experiential education uses a project-oriented, hands-on approach combined with some classroom lecture so students are fully involved in what they're learning.

"They're going to take ownership," said Amelia Boyd, the teacher at the Polestar Center.

While the center doesn't offer treatment for substance abuse -- students must be clean and sober before they enter -- it does offer a safe haven for students who need support to stay sober.

"I don't have any statistics," said Bob Ness, whose stepdaughter will attend the school. "I do know that over a course of about two years, I have come to know over 30 parents who have children who have had trouble with drugs or alcohol.

"We're not blaming the public schools for our kids' troubles," Mr. Ness said. "We're simply saying there's an environment out there that makes it difficult for some kids to remain apart from the temptation of drugs and alcohol."

Polestar Center of Augusta

LOCATION:

240 Camilla Ave., just off Davis Road in Martinez

OPEN HOUSE:

6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday

CLASSES BEGIN:

Sept. 7. School day lasts from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Office hours are 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. For information, call 228-5100.