Picture this: an English Literature classroom with ten students working busily at their desks, each with their own workbook and assignments to work on. Most of them look to be around 15 or 16 years old.
The first students you really notice are the three students sitting at the back of the room. They are working on the same workbooks, but each is working at different places in their own personal workbook. One of them has a question. These three students become engaged in a discussion about the work, helping each other; figuring things out. One student goes back to revisit the work they did, while the other looks ahead and gets familiar with the work that is to come. They have an engaging discussion guided by the teacher asking the students more questions and allowing them to come up with their own conclusions.
Suddenly there is a knock at the door. It is another student in the class with her baby in a stroller. She is there to pass in the work she has completed and to pick up the next assignment because the baby is sick and cannot go to daycare for the week.
A few minutes later, another student arrives with a stroller. He is here to check in and get a little help with what he is working on. He is unable to attend regular classes because he has sole custody of his child and there are no daycare spaces close to where he lives. He does not have access to a vehicle for the daycare spot that is available across town.
There is a student in the class who has trouble focusing on the work at hand. She frequently needs to get up and take a little walk. It takes her a long time to complete the work she has to do, but eventually she does finish. The smile that lights up her face when she finally finished an assignment successfully is the look that makes a teacher instantly remember why they entered the profession in the first place.
The boy in the centre of the room raises his hand. He looks younger then the others. You notice that he is working on a workbook and a very thick novel. He asks the teacher a question and they have an interesting, in-depth philosophical discussion about the novel he is reading. You later find out that he is a gifted student who is far to advanced for the grade level he should be in, but his parents do not want him to finish high school more than two years before he should.
They feel he is not mature enough to handle the pressure of university and living in a dorm, although he would be able to do the work. In the regular class of 30 he was in, the teacher did not have the time to provide him, or keep up with, the intellectual stimulation he needed. This alternative class has been a great benefit for him. He is able to do assignments that are challenging and the other students look to him for help. He is growing both as a learner/teacher and has been more accepted in this class than any other he has been in.
Off in the corner there is a student in a wheelchair. She is using a computer to communicate with her educational programming assistant and the teacher. She is in a special school program designed specifically for her, as she attends some regular and some alternative classes.
Another student arrives to pass in some work. He is on a 15 minute break from the gas station across the street. He works there during the day and has a job in a retail store at night. His Dad left them a couple of years ago and his Mom became sick about 6 months ago, so he needs to work to help his mom. This alternative option is the only way he can get the last few credits he needs to complete the requirements for graduation and provide an income to help out his family. If he does succeed, he will be able to apply for the manager trainee program offered by the retail store.
Just at the end of class, someone’s mother comes to the door. She is there to pass in the work for her child who is at home under house arrest. The school was able to accommodate two students under house arrest because of the type of alternative education program it offers. The mom’s pick up and drop off school work for their children once a week and the teacher and students are able to communicate through email. These students are able to get an education that may not have been available to them.
These are some fictional examples of who could be an alternative education student.
Alternative education classes are for students who do not fit into, or have difficulty being in what is considered a traditional classroom. These classes are usually smaller, more flexible, less structured and have more personal and supportive attention than traditional classes. We usually consider students who have learning difficulties, behavioral difficulties, or young parents to be the perfect candidates for these types of classes, but they can also be a benefit for gifted students. These classes allow students to have a more personalized experience for their education. For many students it allows them the opportunity to have an education which would otherwise be impossible.
While the outcomes and credits they are required to have for graduation are the same in the end, the path to get them is as different as each student. Fortunately, these paths are often a great benefit to the students who are on them, allowing them both the tools and opportunity to be successful and reach their goals.