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Archway Academy Helps Local Teens Stay Sober

The LGBTQ-affirming high school supports students who are committed to recovery.

Students at Archway Academy (courtesy photos)

Gabriela Daugherty is a bright 22-year-old fitness instructor and personal trainer who graduated from Austin’s St. Edward’s University with a degree in psychology.  

But her life could have taken a very different path. After coming out at 13, she battled substance abuse.

“When I was about 14, I struggled with self-harm and depression and body image,” Daugherty says. “I was also smoking a lot of weed.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ teens may be two times as likely to be bullied, excluded, or assaulted at school. And they’re nearly 40 percent less likely to have an adult in their family who they can turn to. So it’s no surprise that they may be twice as likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Rates of past-30-day alcohol use were 25 percent higher among LGBTQ high school students and 18 percent higher among those ages 18 to 25, compared to their straight and cisgender peers, The Trevor Project found in a 2020 report. 

Gabriela Daugherty

Daugherty says she was fortunate to find Archway Academy, a nonprofit “recovery high school” in the heart of Houston that is open to all teens who are committed to recovery.

“At that age,” she says, “it’s a struggle to overcome, and this was a like-minded community. And being gay, they didn’t treat me any different.” 

Anthony Fry, 52, a care-management and recovery coach who is the president-elect of Archway’s board of directors, knows how she felt. 

“I started drinking and using at the age of 15,” he says. “I didn’t get sober until 25. Drinking let me check out of what was going on.” Fry came from a family with a lot of alcoholism, and suffered physical and emotional abuse after coming out as gay. 

Four years ago, he spoke to a class at Archway during their Mentor Day. “I’m transparent about every part of my life,” he notes. “When I spoke to the kids, I was very open, and I think they responded to that. That’s when they asked me to be on the board, and I got hooked. What grabs my heart is that we are providing a safe space for these kids. It’s a very open community and everyone can be exactly who they are. That first time I spoke to the kids, there was a transgender kid and we had an instant connection. She felt seen and heard.”

For Daugherty, the best part of her school day was the morning check-in. “Every morning, first thing, we would gather in a group, in a circle with counselors, and talk about relationships—whatever was going on,” she says. “It was a way of getting a fresh start on the day.” 

Even during classes, if students need support, all they have to do is raise their hands and ask for a counselor. 

The hard part for Daugherty was working the 12 Steps of recovery. “Making amends was the hardest,” she says. “And then at a certain point, you have to become a sponsor to other girls while you’re still working the program. At that age, that was hard.”

But Daugherty credits that Archway Academy experience for helping her. And not just the counselors, but the curriculum teachers as well. “Mr. Sanborn, who taught history and government and just about everything, and Mr. Miller, who taught English—I’m still in touch with them on Facebook. They didn’t babysit us; they made us take the lessons as seriously as our sobriety.” Ninety-four percent of Archway graduates, like Daugherty, go on to attend college.

The school normally has about 60 to 80 students who actually enroll in two different programs: the Southwest Schools academic curriculum, and the Archway Academy recovery program. The recovery program has one section for students who have at least 60 days of sobriety, and a second section for those just out of treatment who have at least one day sober. 

All students are required to be active members of an Alternative Peer Group (APG), a community-based, family-centered support program for youth struggling with substance abuse. Tuition is $1,050 per month, with a $150 drug-testing fee per semester. Financial aid is available for families that qualify. 

For Fry, who takes the helm as Archway’s president in January, the goal will be to raise the profile of Archway Academy so the school can help as many kids as possible in a safe and supportive environment. “Because,” he emphasizes, “there’s no getting sober if you don’t feel safe.”

For more information on Archway Academy, call 713-328-0780 or visit archwayacademy.org.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.
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