Four seniors graduated from Coastal Preparatory High School in Middle Township on Thursday, June 16, which is one of only three high schools in the state that is designed to educate and support students who are in recovery from substance misuse, according to a news release.

“My old school – it just wasn’t a good fit for me. There were just so many kids, and I never got the one-on-one time I needed,” one of the graduates said. “It was very much a sink or swim situation there. Here, at Coastal Prep – they helped me learn how to float.”

The Class of 2022 is the largest graduating class for the small school, which is using space at the Court House Church of Christ. Opening in March 2019 thanks to a state grant, Coastal Prep provides students with a safe, nonjudgmental environment where they can continue their education and receive recovery support. The setting makes it easy for students to find a sense of belonging and develop lasting connections with teachers, counselors and their peers.

“We’re a family,” said Anna Cannella, transition coordinator for Coastal Prep. “I’m so, so proud of these students and excited for them to reach this milestone, but selfishly, I’m heartbroken that I won’t be seeing them every day.”

Serving the state’s eight southernmost counties, some students travel as far as an hour and a half each way to make it to class every day. “It’s an incredible commitment and a testament to how hard these students work and how much they want this,” said Michael Hickman, interim director of Coastal Prep.

“This is a program for kids who want to change their lives,” echoed Katie Faldetta, executive director of Cape Assist. “These students are ready to start a new chapter and that means doing something radically different. They are ready for that change.”

Coastal Prep is a partnership between Middle Township School District and Cape Assist, the leading prevention and treatment agency in Cape May County. Thursday’s graduation brings the total number of students who completed the program and graduated to six. The program is operating at its maximum capacity – it does not have the funding or space to grow any larger.

Serving 14 students this year, it marks a 180% increase from last year. A total of 24 students have attended the school since its opening.   “This program has humble beginnings, but it’s been incredible to watch it grow,” said Dr. Toni Lehman, assistant superintendent of Middle Township School District. “This is more than a school; it is a home, and this is a family. Each student has a unique story that brought them here and a bright future thanks to all they’ve accomplished here.”

“Honestly, before we were here, graduation didn’t seem like it was going to happen,” said the parents of one of the graduates. “We are so grateful for this program. It gave our son his confidence back – his future back. We are extremely proud of him and so thankful for the wonderful teachers, counselors, and staff. This program has meant so much to our family, we are so thankful he had this option, this experience.”

* The names of the graduates and their family members are being withheld out of respect for their privacy.

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