Chesterfield Recovery Academy is a public school nestled next to a traditional high school in Chesterfield, Virginia. The large couch may be the first sign that this isn't your typical classroom; the licensed therapy dog might be another.
All of the students enrolled in the academy are recovering from addiction.
"This school is like a comprehensive school mixed with therapy,” said Justin Savoy, the recovery academy’s program coordinator. "The benefit is that they actually are around people who are going through the same situation like them. They have more of a network and a family. It's a more welcoming atmosphere where they don't feel judged for their previous behaviors or past behaviors."
Chesterfield Schools' Superintendent Mervin Daugherty spearheaded the school's opening this year.
"This is the first one in Virginia. We are the pilot," Daugherty said. "This is an opportunity for students to realize, 'I made a mistake. There are people here to help me get through the mistake.' Drug and alcohol use is not isolated. It's not just in one community."
Neither are schools like these: a handful of recovery schools first opened in the 1970s. Now, though, they can be found coast to coast, from Florida to Texas to California, with the most recent ones opening for the first time this year in Ohio and Virginia.
At Chesterfield, there are currently 11 students. The school has the ability to take on 40 students.
Blake Nicoll and Zakiya Kearney are two of the school’s first students.
"I was using substances,” Nicoll said.
Her classmate faced a similar situation.
"I got an addiction to a substance," Kearney said. "I was scared at first, but it's really worked out. I'm really glad. I would much rather be here than regular school, much rather be here."
The students work on their traditional curriculum at their own pace, with both online and in-person instructors ready to help, as well as therapists.
"I was like, 'Am I going to be doing math and the therapist was going to be like, 'Are you anxious during this?' I was like, 'That's going to be weird,'” Nicoll recalled, “but it's definitely nice because when you're having a bad day, you don't really have to hold it in. You can kind of just talk about it with somebody that's going to be unbiased."
Jeff Patton’s 9th grade son enrolled in the recovery academy after he completed a treatment program.
"It changes your perspective on everything when drug addiction comes in your front door of your house," he said. “It is the most welcoming thing you can do for your child if you have a program like this in your community because it gives you hope that they're not going to get lost in the system. It feels like a lifeline."
It is one that these students say they plan to hold on to and finish their education.
"It's the people - the reason why I like coming," Kearney said.
It is a group of students now sharing a journey of recovery together.
"We're all like, really close,” Nicoll said. “We have like a little chosen family."