Kolbe Academy Prepares to Offer Innovative Education in New School Year

Gathering at the new Kolbe Academy are, from left: John Petruzzelli; Dr. Brooke Cortese Tesche; and Michael Mezger, board chair for Kolbe Academy, Bethlehem. (Photos courtesy of Jessica Edris)

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

Recover. Succeed. Transform. That’s the tagline of the new Kolbe Academy, Bethlehem which, as the first Catholic high school in the nation for students battling addiction and participating in recovery from substance and alcohol abuse, will for the first time welcome students for the 2019-20 school year.

“One of the most challenging areas is for parents to recognize they need help” with their children fighting addiction, said Dr. Brooke Cortese Tesche, Diocesan chancellor for education. “Together as a faith family, we will help them, with faith and hope. We’re reaching out and want them to know we’re walking through this with you.”

Tesche said the extended day and recovery-based activities will be very important at the school. “Most important though is the intensive recovery support. We’ll have a full-time recovery support master’s level clinician. We’re building an intensive recovery plan for each student with a counselor, peer-to-peer counseling, group counseling and family counseling.”

Tesche said this integral support will help families access resources with support through Lehigh and Northampton counties and with Mid-Atlantic Rehabilitation Services (MARS) of Bethlehem.

“We want to really make a difference … we want to cultivate a culture of recovery.”

Tesche said no matter the financial situation of the family, students will receive financial aid and scholarships. “This is out of the box … it’s a statement to the current state of addiction in the community and the need for innovation.

“It’s a blessing for the Diocese to partner with stakeholders in the community.”

“My hope as principal of Kolbe Academy is to give our students the typical high school experience, even though we are not the typical high school,” said Principal John Petruzelli, former principal of Bethlehem Catholic High School.

“With that said, our school day will run from about 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will be different from the other Catholic schools, however.”

Petruzelli said Kolbe Academy will follow the same curriculum that other Catholic high schools follow. “Students will need the same credits to graduate that students at Nativity BVM [Pottsville] and Berks Catholic [Reading] need. What will make us different is the intensive recovery/counseling support that our students will receive each day.”

Petruzelli said every day will start with a morning check-in meeting with all students, led by Kolbe’s certified drug and alcohol counselor. “We have an agreement to work with MARS to provide all the counseling recovery support services we will offer to our students.”

This meeting, taking the place of a homeroom period, will provide students a time to share any issues or problems they may be having. It will also be an opportunity for them to be a support to a fellow student.

For some, it will just be a daily check-in time to say things are going well. During the course of the day the school will also provide one-on-one, peer-to-peer and group counseling. Students will be pulled out of class on a rotating basis or attend during study hall periods.

“Because of our small size as a school, we will be able to do several special things during the week. On Wednesday afternoons there will be a group activity of some sort. One week it could be a field trip, another week it might be a group service project. One week it might be a group recovery support meeting,” Petruzelli said.

“While that is happening for the students, faculty and staff will participate in professional development opportunities to make sure they are fully prepared to work at a recovery high school. These educational experiences will address issues such as drug and alcohol issues, mindfulness, health and wellness, and the like.

“On Thursdays we will run a 45-minute activity period so all students can attend and participate in different school activities. Those activities will be scheduled based on the interests of the student.

“On Friday we will offer a ‘Friday Speaker Series’ where people from the community will be invited into the school to address the student body on a variety of topics. These speakers may be people already in long-term recovery. They may be from a college that offers a sober-living environment or a Recovery Support Program. They may be people with different interests or in different careers that they can share their experiences with the students.”

Petruzzelli said the other big difference will be something called Alternative Peer Groups (APGs) that will meet three days a week after school, as an extension of the school day. The goal of APG is to continue to provide a sober social environment where students can be supported and build relationships with their peers in a drug-free environment.

“To date, we know that each Tuesday, we will run a 12-Step Yoga Program for our students. The other two days will be open for different programs and activities that will change weekly throughout the year,” Petruzzelli said.

“With regard to curriculum, we will provide an education plan for each student. We will evaluate their transcript and determine what classes and credits will be needed to graduate. We will offer both in-classroom and online courses for students. In-class courses will be taught by certified Diocesan teachers. Online courses will be offered for certain electives and language credits.

“We will offer an online summer school program in July each summer, which will allow students to make up credits that they need in order to graduate on time. We will also have a special education coordinator for students who might need certain services.

“The past few months have been an amazing adventure as we prepare to open in August this summer. So many times we have experienced what we call ‘God moments’ where something will happen, someone will come into the picture to help or support us in some way when we were not expecting it or we were worrying how we would accomplish something. We know that God is very much involved in this work.”

He said the support of the community has been tremendous. “So many people have reached out to us to offer help, to make both monetary and gift-in-kind donations, to share their support; and to offer to be volunteers.”

“We have spoken all across the five counties of the Diocese and beyond. I like to say we will speak to anyone about Kolbe Academy that won’t run away from us,” Petruzzelli said.

“We have spoken to the priests of the Diocese, Catholic school principals, Rotary Clubs, Knights of Columbus councils, hospitals, doctors and therapists, and Kiwanis groups. The list goes on and on. We are always open to speak to any group about what we are doing.”

Kolbe is hosting the first Kolbe Business Leaders Breakfast Monday, May 6 from 7 to 9:30 a.m. at DeSales University, Center Valley. Jennifer Smith, secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), will be guest speaker.

“We will be sharing the Kolbe story to businesspeople with the hope that they will support our mission and the work to help teens in recovery,” said Petruzelli.

The school’s namesake is St. Maximilian Kolbe, the patron saint of people struggling with addiction, prisoners and the pro-life movement. He was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar and a martyr in the German death camp of Auschwitz during World War II. He was very active in promoting the Immaculate Virgin Mary and is known as the Apostle of Consecration to Mary.

The academy will be dedicated to him and placed under the protection of the Blessed Mother next fall.

Kolbe Academy is located on the grounds of St. Francis Center for Renewal, Monocacy Manor, Bethlehem. It will operate from Mullen Hall and the former St. Francis Academy on the property managed by the School Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis.

For more information on or to make donations to Kolbe Academy, or inquire about availability of tickets to the Business Leaders Breakfast, contact Petruzelli at principal@kolbe-academy.com or 610-866-0581.

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