Alternative schools emerged in the 1960s as a way of offering programs designed to meet the educational and therapeutic needs of troubled youngsters who were not succeeding in the public school system. They were seen by their advocates as an answer to juvenile crime and delinquency, a means of reducing school violence, and a way of increasing educational effectiveness.
In this chapter, best-selling author Digby Diehl tells the story of Recovery High in Albuquerque, N.M., an alternative school for substance-abusing adolescents. It is a story that, although focused on an individual school, raises troubling issues of great importance for our society. Are alternative schools an effective way to meet the therapeutic and educational needs of young people with substance abuse problems? What is a fair way to allocate funds between meeting the normal educational needs of most children and the extended and more costly needs of those with special disorders? Who should bear the cost of treating and educating substance-abusing children the educational, justice, health, or social service system, or some other system?
The grant to the Albuquerque Public School District was an unusual one for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in a number of ways. The Foundation does very little with schools, since education is not one of its priorities. It is also rare to receive a grant request from a group of concerned parents rather than an established organization. Recovery High does, however, demonstrate the importance to the Foundation of ad hoc grants, those based on unsolicited requests sent by individuals. This grantmaking mechanism allows the Foundation to support creative ideas from people who want to make a difference, and enables the Foundation's staff to learn about potential emerging areas of grantmaking.