Mary Ferreri

(QUEEN CITY NEWS) — It was the first of its kind in the Carolinas— a recovery high school with a mission to provide education in a recovery-friendly environment to youth with substance abuse and co-occurring disorders.

Emerald School of Excellence opened its doors about four years ago in Charlotte. At the heart of it all is Mary Ferreri.

Friend Meredith Ratajczak works with Ferreri and explains what she believes makes her so remarkable.

“When you think about remarkable women or looked in the dictionary, her picture would be there. Because what she has brought… this resource that she has brought to the Charlotte area, is so critical given the epidemic problem that we have, and most states have. But in the Carolinas, a resource like this did not exist, and now it’s here.”

It took Ferreri many years to get to where she is now. She grew up in Long Island, New York, and struggled herself in high school. She was a strong athlete but battled with self-worth and an eating disorder. Ferreri barely made it through her senior year.

Fast-forward several years, and after more than a decade teaching with Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, she faced another battle—getting funding for her vision to start up a recovery high school

Ferreri worked tirelessly, and the funding happened. Students in recovery now have a unique learning and support environment. Just the name itself holds a special meaning to Ferreri.

She explains, “Emerald is North Carolina’s gemstone. And I thought, how great is that? How meant to be, because I want these kids to think— Emerald School of Excellence! I’m not downgrading my education; I’m, if anything, upgrading. My recovery’s actually opening more doors for me and I’m actually figuring out answers for life that even adults don’t figure out until many, many years later.”

Emerald School of Excellence is a tuition-based private school and operates year-round. Its curriculum aligns with the state standard course of study and includes Honors and AP options. Staff includes teachers, recovery support staff, yoga, and physical conditioning instructors.

Ferreri stresses the importance of the ‘recovery’ part of the curriculum.

“Academics are kind of hand in hand with recovery from mental health and substance abuse, but you kind of can’t get the academics if you’re not okay. So we want to make sure they’re in a good place to learn, and then we help them get there—and academics is a piece of cake, to be honest.”

A good place to learn is what Emerald appears to be. Meredith Ratajczak sees it all the time.

“You just have to look around, and look at the kids. They’re happy! You talk to them; they’re happy to be here, and you feel like– if they weren’t here, in no way would they be excelling.”

That’s a testament to the caring the students feel from the teachers and support staff. “They’re loved on every day, says Ferreri. “They know without a doubt that we’d be there and drop anything and everything for them. Sometimes, that’s all kids need to really believe in themselves.”

Emerald School of Excellence first opened its doors with two students and two staff members. They now have a staff of 12, with 26 students. While Ferreri appreciates their current campus at the Memorial United Methodist Church in Charlotte, she says she would love for it to grow to have their own property one day.