On October 24, 2023, the Excel Adult High School in Columbia became the first school in Missouri to earn the Recovery Friendly Workplace (RFW) designation. The Excel Center is an accredited tuition-free high school that gives adults 21 and older the opportunity to earn an actual high school diploma. While earning their diploma, students earn college credits and a variety of industry-recognized certifications to increase their earning potential and employability skills.
There are six Adult High Schools located throughout the state: in St. Louis, Columbia, Cape Girardeau, Florissant, Poplar Bluff and Springfield. Each school offers flexible class schedules, supportive relationships with staff, and a life coach who works with students to find solutions to challenges that could hinder their progress. They offer free drop-in childcare centers, transportation assistance, extended hours, and year-round operation, to support students studying to earn a high school diploma.
The mission behind the high school starts at the top and has a rippling effect throughout the building. Mike Reynolds, Director of the Excel Center, states that “We are proud to put the sign on our door that says we welcome all students to join us on the journey to earning their high school diploma. We are proud to support all our students as they work toward changing their lives and the lives of their families in a positive, productive way.”
The Columbia campus now has additional tools and resources to support students and staff in recovery. In October, the school completed each of the steps to earn the Recovery Friendly Workplace designation. These included training, planning, and delivering a declaration to staff and students stating the organization’s support for employees and students in recovery.
Kira Ritchie, a current student in recovery who will graduate with a high school diploma later this month, expressed the support and gratitude she feels from being a student in a school that adheres to the tenets of a Recovery Friendly Workplace. She said, “Knowing that my school and the staff took their time to show the community that they are recovery friendly warms my heart. I am thankful for everything this school and teachers have done to help me make it through–in and out of my recovery.”
Another student, Amy Breese, credits her sobriety to the school’s recovery friendly focus. “The Excel Center is an amazing support system for people who lack confidence. Through their support and love, the staff helps us gain the confidence that addiction took from us. By publicly announcing that they are recovery friendly, the Excel Center shows their students that they see us and will not turn their back on us. When I relapsed, they didn’t look down on me. They told me to pick myself up and get moving. They go above and beyond to show us that we matter,” said Breese.
Ann McCauley (above), the Director of the Recovery Friendly Workplace designation, presented the certificate during a ceremony celebrating the school’s fifth birthday. “The greatest thing about the Excel High School is the people,” McCauley said. “They walk the walk and talk the talk, and their support for those in recovery is phenomenal. After meeting the students, it is evident this school changes lives for the better, and in doing so, positively impacts its entire community.”
The Recovery Friendly Workplace designation comes at no cost to businesses. The University of Missouri Extension is funding the initiative through a Rural Opioids Technical Assistance grant to address substance use disorder in rural communities throughout Missouri.
“It is our hope that schools that have been reluctant to give people in recovery a second chance will hear the success stories from the adult high school and decide to become recovery friendly, too,” McCauley said. “We will refer other schools that need help supporting students in recovery or hiring people in recovery to the Excel Center.”
Abby Courtney, the Career and College Coordinator and a teacher at the Excel Center, who was instrumental in the school’s work to become recovery friendly, beamed as the certificate was presented. Courtney’s goal is to see all six adult high schools throughout Missouri become designated, and she has been instrumental in reaching out to them. She echoed the tenets of the Recovery Friendly Workplace efforts to support the health and wellbeing of every student and staff when she said, “Becoming a recovery-friendly workplace is a public way to demonstrate what we have been doing all along. Through words and deeds, we support our students, showing them that they matter and that we will stick with them in good times and bad. The Excel Center has an inclusive environment we all want to be a part of.”