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Aug 27th

Alternative schools mean success despite odds

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Charles entered an alternative school after being kicked out of his high school. He was an angry young man who was seldom in school. His father was on drugs and his mother was in prison. Charles used marijuana heavily and was involved in gang activity. Charles entered an alternative school after being kicked out of his high school. He was an angry young man who was seldom in school. His father was on drugs and his mother was in prison. Charles used marijuana heavily and was involved in gang activity.

Despite the long odds against his success, staff at the alternative school made a decision to stick by Charles. Charles moved in with the family of another student. In time, he began to value his education and the strict, but caring family he found at the alternative school more than he valued the street and the drugs. He made a decision to stay in school. Charles got off marijuana and his grades and attendance began to improve.

In his senior year, Charles visited Dunwoody Institute where he felt a connection. With the help of an employer that paid part of his tuition, Charles enrolled in computer technology at Dunwoody. After graduation, his employer plans to move him into a computer technology position at the company.

I share this story with you to illustrate a point: Many more of our young people would be lost to the future if not for alternative schools. A significant number of African American children have never had the life experience or acquired the developmental skills to succeed when they enter the Minneapolis Public Schools. Inadequate preparation can start a child on the downward slope of continuing failure.

Too often, their school develops a subconscious perception that these students are unable to learn. As a result, they are not expected to learn, nor are they expected to graduate or become self-sufficient adults. No one should be surprised that such students perform well below their actual ability.

There are now 5,800 alternative schools in the U. S. performing a vital function for students who have been cast off by the traditional school system. Alternative schools have existed in Minneapolis for over 30 years. Most are community-based, culturally competent, and accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Typically, the more than 30 alternative schools across the state operate under contract with a school district.

The quality of alternative schools in Minneapolis has been cited in numerous local and national reports and studies, including citation of best practices in a Washington study. All reports recommend expansion of alternative schools to address various areas of public school inadequacies.

These days, test scores seem to be the only way of measuring a school. While standardized test scores in alternative schools are generally lower than in traditional schools, the rate of improvement in 2002 among schools that belong to the Federation of Alternative Schools was greater in both reading and math than the rate of improvement in non-Federation schools.

The strength of alternative schools lies in their teachers, their size and their structure. Teachers and staff believe in the ability of their students to excel. Two important elements of the alternative school give them the power to reach young people against incredible odds. First, expectations are high. The curriculum provides a structured environment that is safe, nurturing and conducive to gaining the skills necessary for achievement. Distractions are reduced as much as possible to allow students to concentrate on learning. Second, the number of students is low. Students acquire a sense of belonging to a family. Many find in the school what they were seeking when they became involved with a gang - love, acceptance, nurturing and belonging. Some experience, for the first time, on-going, stable relationships with caring adults.

In 2002, over 200 students graduated from alternative schools and many have gone on to post-secondary education. They have succeeded in spite of dismal past performance and past ex
 

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