The fourteen-year-old pregnant girl with the seventh-grade reading level. The juvenile felon who staked out a house with his middle school pals and robbed it for thousands of dollars, then gave most of the money away at school to random kids so he wouldn’t get caught. The bright light with the intelligent smile who moves around too much to retain any information. The one who is one step away from prison and has given up on life. These and more are the students I saw on a daily basis in my overcrowded, overwhelming English 9 class.
Regardless of where they go or what they do when they leave, between the hours of 8 and 3 these children are treated exactly the same as the other 400 freshmen with their own types of headaches. But for these kids, the academic and social anonymity engendered by a system driven by performance indicators, high-stakes tests, and overstressed and underutilized teachers, is akin to throwing toddlers in the deep end to learn how to swim. Yes, most will ‘swim’ to safety. But no parent alive will take their eyes off those struggling tykes, ever-watchful of that one moment when their child may need some help in order to survive, in order to learn. Alternative education provides an environment rife with lifeguards and buoys. It is not a free pass, nor is it an easy way out. It simply makes it safe for a child to learn.
At-risk students in such programs are offered a variety of services including monitoring by school-home liaisons, behavioral and academic contracts that hold students accountable for their actions, one-on-one tutoring or small group instruction, and reading materials written at varied levels of reading difficulty.
The reason to maintain and develop future alternative education programs is simple. It is our goal to help children learn skills and curricular content that will enable them to make their ways confidently down their individual life paths. By the time these kids hit high school, they have suffered through at least nine years of academic struggles. They have come to expect failure. Often, their academic struggles are merely symptomatic of larger problems that leave little emotional energy for the frustrations faced when they are encountered with academic and social obstacles. Properly implemented, alternative education programs remove those roadblocks so that students may have a clear shot as the successes that seem so simple to others.