Debbie’s alternative program students attended school for two and a half hours a day in one of three sessions: a.m., p.m. or evening. The students stayed in the same classroom for the entire two and a half hours (as they did in elementary school) and subject specific teachers, who had been relieved of study halls and who were paid a sixth-class stipend, taught an extra class period in the daytime a.m. and p.m. alternative program sessions.
The students in the three sessions of the alternative program completed an independent study curriculum for the courses required for a high school diploma. Each alternative program session was small (10-12 students) with multiple teachers in the room to provide one-on-one academic support for students. Since the students stayed in their classroom for the entire high school experience and didn’t move from classroom to classroom they developed a strong working relationship with the primary teacher in the program who worked with them for the full two and a half hours.
The evening classes, which were managed by a certified teacher who needed an administrative internship to complete his school administrator certification, worked well for young mothers, for students who acted out in school (no appreciative audience to react to them) and for students who had to work during the day to help pay the bills. The subject specific teachers and teaching assistants and the administrative intern in the alternative evening session were paid an hourly rate with minimal benefit costs making it an inexpensive and academically effective addition to the school.
In addition to independent study online coursework, the alternative program students completed a 1,000 hour supervised paid work-study internship in a local business. For young mothers, the work study internship was 700 hours with a 300-hour parenting component. Debbie used one of her newly hired teaching assistants to help these students find internships and supervise the students’ work study and parenting experiences.
Debbie emphasized that the elementary school-like structure of the program with one primary adult forming a strong emotional bond with the student helped the potential dropouts in the alternative program overcome the frequent chaos in their lives. She used their vital statistics — poor attendance, failing grades and/or a rash of discipline problems — to identify students who would benefit from a true alternative program.