Alternative School Settings
For some students, an alternative school program is the right choice. Students who are unmotivated or have been labeled troublemakers or failures in traditional schools may thrive in smaller, more individualized settings. Research indicates that about 12% of all students attending alternative schools in the United States are students with disabilities (Lehr, 2004). Here are some options for youth and their families to consider.
Alternative School Settings: Options to Consider
Magnet schools have a unique theme or focus. Theme-based programs can help keep students interested in learning (U.S. Department of Education, 2004), preventing the disengagement that can lead to dropout.
Alternative schools may be an appropriate option for at-risk students who want to succeed. About 12% of students in alternative schools for at-risk students are special education students with IEPs—typically students with LD or EBD (Lehr, 2004; Lehr & Lange, 2003). Alternative schools that promote school completion and graduation typically feature smaller and more personal settings, individualized supports, counseling, positive relationships with adults, meaningful educational and transition goals, and an emphasis on vocational and living skills (Lehr, 2004). The IEP should continue to be followed and services should continue after placement in an alternative school. Parents should make sure that their child’s IEP is updated if necessary.
Charter schools are set up independently by teachers, parents, or other concerned people who have ideas for improving learning. Their boards of directors are elected by parents and school staff. Charter schools stress parent involvement. As for serving students with disabilities, charter schools have mixed results. Some parents have questions and concerns; others report having more positive experiences than they had in their previous, noncharter schools (Ahearn, 2001; Fiore, Harwell, Blackorby, & Finnegan, 2000; Lehr, 2004).
Career Academies connect school to work through vocational education, career development, and work-based learning. They provide many students with both the motivation to graduate from high school and a solid foundation from which to pursue their college and career goals. Career Academies have contributed to successful results for many at-risk youth with disabilities (Conchas & Clark, 2002; James & Jurich, 1999; Kemple, 2001; Kerka, 2003).
GED programs may be an appropriate educational environment for older students whose needs cannot be met in the regular school setting. Some students may just need an alternative way to pursue their education. Recent studies suggest that some students with EBD can be more successful in adult education settings that have smaller classes, individualized instruction, an informal classroom climate, and a shorter school day (Imel, 2003; Scanlon & Mellard, 2002). However, a diploma or GED should only be the first step to finishing one’s education. The future workforce will require postsecondary education for even entry-level jobs. All youth who go on to college, including those who have a GED, have better outcomes (Orfield, Losen, Wald, & Swanson, 2004).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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