INDIANAPOLIS — There is a high school in Indianapolis unlike any other in the state.
In fact, there are only six other schools like it in the entire United States.
Hope Academy is Indiana's only recovery high school for teens overcoming substance use.
The academy welcomes dozens of students each year from the greater Indianapolis area.
This comes as the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center says the number of drug-related charges among teens is down in 2022 compared to 2021.
Evie Benavente is a junior at Hope Academy. She enrolled more than a year ago.
"At my old school, I got into the wrong friend group and started hanging around the wrong people. I kind of started doing what they were doing and getting into really bad stuff," Benavente said.
Benavente said she was eventually caught at school. That's when a family member introduced her to Hope Academy.
"I was really scared at first," said Benavente, "but it was actually a lot better when I took a tour and saw some of the people here."
Kate Knoll is a mathematics and economics teacher at Hope Academy.
"It operates like a regular high school," said Knoll. "I think there is just a lot more individualized attention to our students."
"For me, it is one of the healthiest environments I've been in," said Benavente.
Each day, Benavente navigates her way through classes, while also spending time inside The Recovery Room.
"That's probably one of my favorite places at school," said Benavente.
That's where students can meet in small groups, or one-on-one with their assigned recovery coach, in an effort to keep sobriety in check.
"We all come together because we are all trying to reach the same goal of doing better for ourselves," Benavente said. I feel like it is really good for us to all be together and have a good community of friendship."
Class sizes at Hope Academy are small. Knoll says her average class size is five to eight students.
"I am so much more involved with my students as individuals," said Knoll.
Additionally, her own experiences help her make those relationships even stronger.
"When I was in high school, I dealt with a lot of hardships and trauma, and I had to deal with that alone," said Knoll. "So now that I'm in this role, I try my best to be the person I needed when I was that age."
She added, "I never look at them as, 'Oh, those troubled kids.' That is never what I'm thinking about. They are just someone who needs a little extra help."
Benavente says that personalized attention does not go unnoticed.
"The teachers here are probably my favorite teachers I've ever had," said Benavente.
Students and staff say the environment inside Hope Academy helps build healthy habits.
"It's really easy to find friends that you can trust and that can relate to what you're saying," said Benavente. "You know that have your best interest at heart."
For Knoll, Hope Academy is about caring and kindness.
"Not just about them passing or getting a grade," said Knoll. "We care about who they are as people, and that they feel seen and heard. Knowing that I'm making a difference in the world straight out of my classroom – I see that from math scores, and I get the feedback from my students."
Benavente is set to graduate from Hope Academy in May 2024. She says she wants to further her education after graduation.
"Hope Academy really taught me a lot about how to help myself and how to help other people," said Benavente. "Hope saved me and gave me a second chance."
Benavente says her journey at the academy wouldn't be possible without her recovery coach.
"I love Aleesha," said Benavente. "She is really important for me and my life. I really don't think that I'd be making the progress that I was without her."
Benavente also shared simple advice for other students battling substance use.
"Don't be scared to help yourself," said Benavente.
For parents looking to initiate a conversation with their children, Knoll suggests families leave their judgement at the door.
"Allow your student to be open and vulnerable with you," said Knoll, "because if they feel like they've got to hide a part of themselves, you are never going to get down to the real, serious problem."
Hope Academy enrolls new students year-round. Executive Director Rochelle Gardner says the academy's website is the best place to get started and learn more.