Archive for Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Alternative schools come in all sizes, types

April 24, 2002

At graduation, it's easy to forget about the ones who didn't make it.

But state statistics show that last year, when 106 Tonganoxie High School seniors received their diplomas, missing were 14 former classmates four who had dropped out in their senior year, seven during their junior year and three during their sophomore year.

For the past three years, the THS dropout rate has exceeded the state average.

One way school districts can lower the dropout rate, said Sharon Frieden, team leader for state and federal programs for Kansas Department of Education, is by establishing alternative schools.

"There are all kinds and varieties of alternative schools," Frieden said. "Most of them approach the teaching and learning situation a bit differently."

Frieden said many students in alternative schools have not experienced a lot of success.

"Some of them don't make it, obviously, but there are a number of students in our state who have been saved by going to an alternative school."

Judy Juneau is principal of Lawrence Alternative High School, a school established in the late 1960s to help students who were struggling in a traditional educational setting.

"We look much more individually with what's going on with kids," she said. "We're able to take a much closer look at what kinds of problems they're having in reading and math, and then work on interventions."

This year, Juneau said, from 40 to 50 LAHS students will graduate with degrees from their parent schools, Lawrence High School and Free State High School.

When students enter the alternative school, they generally stay there until graduation.

"They get the kind of help that they need here," Juneau said. "If we were just to Band-Aid or patch them up and return them to their home schools, more than likely they would not continue to be successful. All kids have different needs and when you find what works for kids, you try to keep them in that setting."

Another area school has ventured into alternative education and is now a charter school.

The Williamsburg school district is completing its first year of operating a charter (alternative) school.

Susan Myers, superintendent of the school district, said the charter has been a long time in coming.

"It started out as a program about five years ago," Myers said. "Our house-building class built a structure on the Williamsburg campus it's a four-classroom building, and we opened it for grades five through 12 as a place for kids that weren't doing very well in the traditional setting."

The program began with five students, and now has from 30 to 35 students, but it wasn't until this school year that the school, the West Franklin Learning Center for elementary and high school students, achieved the charter status.

For the school district, this opened the door to federal grants. In the first phase, the charter school received a $53,000 implementation grant, which was used to purchase computer equipment, supplies, software and an integrated learning system.

Then, the school requested a $250,000 grant to purchase rural land so students could participate in a working farm. The school received $263,000, more than requested.

"We just closed yesterday on a farm," Myers said. "We purchased a 36-acre farm. It has a 100-year-old house in good condition, a three-year-old big pole barn, chain link pens that have heated water, outbuildings, a chicken coop and garage with a work bench it's a nice place."

With the funds remaining, the charter school will purchase a van to take students to the farm, a pickup truck, livestock and equipment.

"They decided to raise calves, turkeys, chickens and rabbits," Myers said. "And maybe some exotic animals.

The purchase will pay off for the district, she said.

"We paid $150,000 for the farm less than they were asking for it," Myers said. "The school district now owns 36 acres that they will own forever that they didn't buy with their money."

As long as the charter school exists, Myers said, the land will belong to the charter school. If the charter school closes, the land will still be owned by the school district.

"You have to reapply for a charter school every three years," Myers said. "They may not grant you a charter."

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