Students recovering from addiction find hope at unique Mckinney high school

For some students in McKinney, this school year is about much more than grades. At Serenity High School, students receive a fresh start as they work to stay sober.

The walls of Serenity High School showcase its success. There are pictures of students who've graduated, and are winning their battle against addiction.

"I started smoking weed when I was 14 years old. I kept smoking in high school and freshman year and then I got into pills, into Xanax," said Zechariah Early, a Serenity High graduate.

He hit bottom when he nearly overdosed and ended up in the hospital.

"I just wished that my mother wouldn't have had to see me like that, you know?" Early said.

At 16, he's already graduated. He finished two and a half years worth of school in one semester at Serenity.

"I'd say that for every 10 students that enroll in Serenity, I would say 7 to 8 and a half of them, if I can ball park it like that, will stay with us and graduate," said Serenity High School Principal Stephen Issa.

Serenity is in its 19th year. It's a public school in the Mckinney Independent School District. Students must be sober at least 30 days before enrolling. Issa believes the unique self-paced environment helps students make up for lost time and in many cases they graduate early.

"In many instances, their families, the parents in particular thought they'd never see this day come," said Issa.

David Wilkinson is an advisory board member and advocate for the school.

"Whatever I can do to bring a little bit of awareness to that, at least it will be that his life was worth living," Wilkinson said.

Two years ago, his son Michael, died of a heroin overdose at just 25 years old.

"I've asked myself a hundred times, "Could I have done more? Probably, probably. You know, I couldn't save my own son so..." Wilkinson said.

Michael went to rehab three times, but he could not overcome his addiction. Now, his father is trying to find purpose in his death by supporting others in recovery.

"It's a life saver. It gives them hope what they're doing here. Are they able to save them all? No. But, they are able to save some and they're able to give them hope and a second opportunity." Wilkinson said.

For many of the students at Serenity that second opportunity is not lost. After graduation, Early spent the summer working. He will attend college in the fall. His achievements are now making his mother proud.

"She's pretty happy with me and it makes it easier when everyone is happier with what you've done," Early said.

David Wilkinson started a foundation in memory of his son, "The Michael Wilkinson Foundation."
It aims to fight against substance abuse and the stigma that goes along with it.
For more information about the foundation, click here.
To learn about the school, click here.

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