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What's Your Experience with Alternative Schools?

Here's What You Said

In answer to: "What's your experience with alternative schools? Do you think they help kids stay in school and graduate?" you said, in a nutshell:

  • If it helps one kid, it's worth it
  • We need to better fund these schools
  • We need to give them equal status to the regular schools
  • Some kids need a smaller group setting
  • It doesn't work for all kids

Here are your longer responses (from the Dropout Prevention discussion board in 2008):


Alternative Schools Change Lives
I taught alternative education for 10 years. I saw it change people's lives. I saw kids who should never graduate, graduate. They just needed someone to care. I also saw kids graduate that still ended up in prison, or abused and abusing. I have seen it all working in alternative education, but I always said the same thing. As a teacher, if I touch one life, help one kid find their way to become a successful adult, then I have done my job. I have done that many times over, reaping the benefits through cards, letters and most often rumors of success. It is worth it? Absolutely. You never know which one life will change the world. -Wendy Rice

Our Adult/Alternative School Succeeds with Block Scheduling
I have worked for an adult education school since 1982. In 1994, because of funding cuts, we became a combination adult/alternative school. Our clients are aged 16+. Because of our modified block scheduling, I see successes every day. Do we lose some? You bet. But we also educate a lot of kids who could never make it in the "regular" schools. We give immature, unmotivated, and /or troubled kids a safe place to grow up, get educated, and learn social skills. I firmly believe that alternative schools need to be better funded and given an equal status in the school community. I am proud that we are able to fill a niche in the system. Our teachers are creative, adaptive and caring. -K.K. McKnight

They’re All My Kids
There are times when, for whatever reason, students just can't work it out in the "traditional" schools. It's a fact of life. I worked at an alternative high school for ten years. I saw everything you might expect and many things you wouldn't want to even hear about. We had celebrations for our kids, breakfasts before standardized tests, funerals for both kids and staff (a staff member was murdered in our school and I can't even remember how many times kids’ family and friends died from disease and urban violence), and graduation ceremonies for students who never thought they'd see the day.

Through the good times and the bad, I still went to work every day with the absolute conviction that what I did made a difference in the lives of MY kids.

Now wherever I go in the area, I see my kids at the butcher’s shop, at barbershops, in auto mechanics bays, as carpenters, painters, veterinarians, lawyers, firemen and even police and the military. Some of them took longer than others and some never really figured it out but...they're all my kids. -Ed

We Need a Teacher Ed Program for Working in Alternative Education
The student teaching experience at an alternative high school was a very gratifying one. My communication with the students was excellent and they became more engaged in education than they had been previously.

The experience made me wonder if any universities had a program specifically for teachers who chose to work in an alternative environment. Does anyone know of a master's program designed to help students in this situation? I am in Michigan and attended Eastern Michigan (a teacher's school) but they have nothing focused on alternative education. -Gary Nicholls

Wyoming Offers Endorsement in Alternative Ed
I have taught in alternative schools since 2004 and I have yet to locate an educator program focused on those of us wanting to work in that setting. Wyoming does offer educators an endorsement in alternative education, but it is based on relevant work experience and outcomes.

Having been enrolled at three separate alternative schools in the early 1980's, but never a real student until age 23, it was particularly ironic that I should become a passionate teacher/counselor for at-risk teens. My student teaching was at a therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens. I can honestly say it was the best summer I'd had in years and I still think fondly of my kids every day.

I haven't met a kid in these schools I don't love. Good luck. -ELM


They Graduated with Our High School
My high school had an alternative school down the road. I know a lot of kids in my grade would have dropped out of school, but instead they went to the alternative school and with the support of the teachers and smaller classes they were able to walk down the aisle and graduate with us. Their diploma was not from my high school but from their alternative school. But still the same they managed to do something many thought would never happen.

Everyone has reasons for not succeeding in a regular school and there needs to be a school to help those students through their troubles along with getting them to the stage of graduating. I do not think, though, that alternative schools should be advertised greatly because I do feel that we should keep students in a regular school as much as possible. I think if it comes down to that student is going to drop out, we should then give them the option of an alternative school instead. Everyone needs a fair chance to education. -Alicia


Alternative Ed Did Not Work for My Child
I live in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and I had a child that from day one of high school skipped school, drank, didn't come home until she felt like it and she was disrespectful to teachers. The principal decided that she had to go to alternative school. This didn't help any. She continued to follow the same pattern. All the students that were there were the same way. After dealing with this for two years, I finally took her out of school because whatever they were doing just did not succeed with my child or others. It was like they continued to try and teach these students the same way as they were being taught in a regular high school setting, when they should have been making major adjustments to the curriculum/program itself. So I guess I can say that alternative school in my town did not work for my child. -Karen

Mother Wishes Her Son Had Started Alternative Ed Program Earlier
As a parent of a son who attends an alternative school, I am very satisfied and wished he could had attended as a freshman, he would had graduated by now. My son went from cutting school and wanting to drop out to getting on the merit roll, earning awards, and then the honor roll. He even stated he wished we would had known about this school. It’s been a blessing to both my son and me.   I have come a long way with him and will not give up on him until he finishes. This year is his senior year with an expected graduation in 2008. -Adelina Rivera

The Nurturing, Flexible Environment with Its Small Group Setting Helped My Daughter
My daughter attended an alternative school her senior year. Without this opportunity I don't believe that she would have graduated. She had found the drug and alcohol scene after being raped behind a dance club. The rape sent her on a course of self-destruct. I knew that the smaller setting, the nurturing and the flexibility would be better for her. She was an average student at best throughout the years. She graduated with a regular diploma from the alternative setting. She continued to self-destruct for a while and was in and out of technical schools. I am happy to report that she returned to school, a UW school, graduated and then was accepted into a very limited graduate social work program. She received her Master's Degree in Social Work and is an asset to her field. I give 100 percent of the credit for her achievement to her and the alternative school. There she realized her potential and self-worth. It just took some time for her to implement the changes and move forward. The alternative diploma and supportive environment of a smaller setting were the key.

Alternative schools are awesome. We need to fight the ignorance by educating the public with the facts. We need to get the success stories out there. -Valerie

These questions were posed and answered on a Dropout Prevention discussion board in 2008.