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After Years Of Substance Abuse, A Diploma

A lot of teenagers smoke weed. But they don’t all love it enough to get W-E-E-D tattooed across their knuckles.

"I was just a pothead, basically, obsessed with getting high. That’s all I would think about," said 18-year-old Christopher Takata, who last week became the first graduate of Seattle Public Schools' new Recovery School, for students who have been through drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs.

Takata's drug use began early in life. "In seventh grade I started smoking weed, hanging out with kids who didn’t go to school. I thought it was cool, so I stopped even trying in school." Later that school year, Takata got caught buying weed cookies and was sent to outpatient drug treatment.

After Takata relapsed and accidentally lit a fire in his house, his mom sent him to live with his dad in California. Within the year, he was back in Seattle. "I was just drinking, doing drugs, and everything just went down the drain," Takata said.

Takata dropped out of school for years. Then an assault conviction landed him in Green Hill School, a juvenile prison in Chehalis. Takata said the nine months he spent there, among many young people facing long sentences, were eye-opening.

"It’s kinda sad seeing all these kids who don’t have hope, because a lot of kids are going to prison after they’re 21, and they’re just doing a lot of time. It also made me realize that I want to change my life, because what all these kids are doing is just not worth it."

Takata said at Green Hill he was able to get caught up with his schoolwork. "I probably did two years of work in one year," he said.

Even after Takata was released, it wasn’t smooth sailing. There was more weed, drinking. After one wild night, he woke up with a broken jaw and no memory of how he was injured. He ended up in drug court, then in rehab for 90 days.

Earlier this year, fresh from rehab, Takata enrolled at Recovery School. The small, alternative high school had just opened its doors.

Like other schools that are part of the district's Interagency Academy network for at-risk students, Recovery School lets students work at their own pace to get the credits they need to finish high school. Part of students' daily schedule is a support group meeting with fellow students to talk about the challenges of staying clean and about how to face the issues that drugs and alcohol helped them avoid.

"I’ve never been to a school like this," said Takata, who credits the school’s drug and alcohol counselor as one of the key people who helped him reach graduation. "Like, I’ve been in counseling before. It doesn’t really work. But coming here, whatever they did worked. They just know what they’re doing," he said.

Takata isn’t sure what he wants to do long-term. For now, his goals are to get his associate's degree from Seattle Central Community College.

And to get rid of those weed tattoos.

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