It is my understanding that alternative schools are for students who have not been successful in mainstream for various reasons. I think these schools along with the Ontario Student Success programs are fantastic for the students that they serve. But my question is why can’t we have alternative classes / programs for all students in every school? I am sure there are funding issues as I know that the alternative sites and the Student Success programs have a much lower student to teacher ratio, but if we had alternative programs in every HS then wouldn’t the need for alternative and Student Success classes be minimized?
This to me is another way that we need to unlearn how school is done. I am a dreamer and have a vision for school, but am also realistic and know that this will take time. Students, teachers, administrators, parents and society as a whole have an idea about what school is. Students should show up to classes on time, ready to work, be quiet, wait for instruction, change classes when the bells ring and eat in the allotted time. They should work hard, especially in the maths and sciences because they are most important, they shouldn’t challenge their teachers, and if it is not in the curriculum there isn’t time to cover it.
Alternative programs focus on the following:
“Students who attend an alternate program are seeking an alternative to the traditional high school setting with a different delivery model. Alternate programs offer students an opportunity to learn at their own pace. Students work on one course at a time, and are able to complete six or more courses in an academic year. The focus is on student directed learning. Student progress is monitored closely and students are held accountable for their work.” (Elizabeth Wynwood Alternative School)
How can we make this happen in mainstream???
I would say ¼ of our students come to school motivated to work, ready to learn and eager to get good grades. These students are engaged inside and outside of the classroom and will be successful in life because they value learning and honestly love the way that they are taught and school in general. The second ¼ are motivated by marks, they want to be successful and do what they are told. They are smart and have figured out the system, they are compliant and do what needs to be done to earn their mark and move on, I would argue that not a whole lot of lifelong learning goes on for these students. The third ¼ are doing what they need to do to get by, they are not causing problems but are super disengaged, they get good enough grades to keep their teachers and parents off their backs but are so checked out that they have really learned nothing at all. And the last ¼ are our at risk students. Many of these students suffer from mental health issues, family issues and / or learning difficulties. They have often had horrible experiences in school and have given up and don’t see the value in school. There is definitely very little learning happening for this group, other than school is not a fun place to be 😦
So if ¾ of a schools population is only motivated by marks, are disengaged or have written off school completely, shouldn’t we be unlearning what happens in our schools?
Part of my vision or argument is that there should be “alternative” programs in every school. I am not suggesting that all 3/4s of a schools population needs to be in an alternative program or that it should be the only way things are taught, but what if ¾ of the population had the option to do their schooling alternatively?
Currently students who wish to attend an alternative program have to fit a certain criteria to be put on a waitlist (to me this is saying something about traditional schooling, just sayin’). What if the criteria was altered a little bit so that those who really need it can get in and those who want it can get in as well?
I often have these conversations with my students and it is really interesting to get their perspectives. I asked them if they had the option to be in an alternative program for their four years in HS, would they do it? All of these students have been in my class that is somewhat of an alternative program so they have experience with both. I indicated what group my students and feel like they fall into at the end of their quotes. Here are some of their thoughts.
“Yes I would. It would be nice to feel like you are headed in the right direction on a daily basis- I think a lot of kids (or at least me) feel like were just going to school everyday and that our careers are another chapter in life. I actually feel like I’m passing time and days are just going by as I sit in class and complete the work assigned. Part of that is very easy and comfortable, but to me personally it’s also very uncomfortable- it makes me feel like I’m wasting time every single day and that I should be taking it upon myself to start my own career in my spare time so that I actually have something going for me when I’m done high school. I think to have more respect for our own education we need to feel like something is actively happening in an area that we are interested in. If the alternative program was an option and students were choosing to be in it- everyone would be surrounded by people that have a passion to be learning in that different way. If you are surrounded by people who care and want to make change or are actively motivated than you become more focused and motivated.” Gr 11 student (disengaged group)
“I’m not sure if I’d be able to attend a school like that. I believe I’m so used to the traditional way of learning I’d be frustrated with everything. I usually like a lot of organization and when people tell me exactly what to do. But on the other hand, I really like the way your class is and the ideas behind the blue sky school. If my parents permitted it, I might give it a shot.” Gr 11 student (compliant group)
“I’d prefer a combo because on days when you’re just not feeling it, traditional style forces you to hear what teachers have to say. I’d like interest lead as well because it’s more fun and in the end I learn more!” Gr 10 student (compliant group)
“I’d be fully interested in attending a school like that for my four years, as long as I would get the same sort of high school experience. I’d embrace a schooling system like this because I think that I can excel and learn more than in a regular school.” Gr 11 student (compliant group)
“I would like to mention that our schooling is designed for auditory and visual learners. No doubt about it. We are told we have to become those types of learners instead of finding a method or developing a program for kinesthetics learners which would increase performance overall as a community.” Gr 10 student (compliant group)
“Yeah definitely. If I had the chance to completely re-do high school and focus on my own education I’d get the chance to discover the things that I’m passionate about. It seems like something students going into gr9 aren’t able to do but that’s only because we aren’t given the option to learn about what truly interests us. One of the biggest things that students need nowadays is a network. Putting us into school for 4-8 years as we develop as adults leaves us unable to grow our professional network within the community.” Gr 12 student (disengaged group)
While these students all fit into different groups, I think it is evident that they would be interested in having the option within their own school as none of them would qualify for an alternative program right now.
So, I am going to continue to unlearn, continue to teach my students to unlearn, continue to inform parents about other possibilities and keep trying out new things in the classroom to give my students an alternative option. But I would love for someday this to be the norm. To end on a positive note, I am super excited that next year my school will be offering a new dual credit course where the students will have more time to unlearn with me. It is not happening until second semester 2019, but my brain is already full of ideas. It is proof that change is coming!!
Does your school offer an alternative program within a mainstream HS? If so, I would love to hear all about it. Please connect with me 🙂
Thanks for unlearning with us.