SAFER SCHOOLS NEWS-VOL. 59
Alternative Learning Environment
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* View similarities between Academic Success and Behavioral Success
There are a variety of reasons why a school system needs one or more alternative schools or Alternative Learning Environments (ALE). Most center around the need to remove a disruptive student from the regular classroom or the need for a more structured environment to meet a student’s educational needs. There are also a variety of types of ALE’s. These are usually separated by level of control exercised more than by grade or age level of students served.
The Keys To Safer Schools.com model for ALE’s consist of three distinct but integrated components. They are:
This should be the first decision made when a District has decided that an ALE is needed. Many of today’s students come from an unstructured environment at home. Pre-school and Kindergarten teachers can verify this as they are the first to witness children trying to fit into their first group experience. Schools introduce structure then gradually over the next 12-14 years reduce imposed structure and allow students more freedom. Most students handle this process appropriately. However, some are allowed more freedom (from home and at school) than they can handle responsibly. These are at risk of failure academically and socially.
They often put others at risk by their undisciplined presence in the classroom. The obvious solution is to provide a more structured environment in which they can learn academic skills and appropriate social behaviors. The big question is, ”How much structure is required?” The simple answer is, “It depends.” The number of students needing services and the available resources are key factors in making this decision. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that almost every school with 2500 or more students has an ALE program, only about one fourth of schools with 1000 enrollment have an ALE and almost no schools below 500 have one. This indicates that more students and more resources will result in more ALE’s. What was not reported and what Keys To Safer Schools.com has experienced is consolidated ALE’s.
A group of rural schools can collaborate (and have) in development and operation of one or more ALE’s to make more efficient use of meager resources found in each individual school. While imagination is the only limit to the number of possible ALE types, the most common ones are:
- Alternative School
- Focused on Academics (Student with mostly academic failure)
- Mental Health Focused (Students with Mild/Medium Mental Health Issues, e.g., Oppoistional Defiant Disorder,
Anxiety Disorders, Major Depression)
- Day Treatment (School Based or Off-Site)
- Sanctioned School
- Boot Camp
(allow Keys to help your school district or Community setup one of these models! Contact us to learn more 800-504-7355 “toll free”)
This is a rather generic name. It is sometimes applied to the school but generally the school will have a “kid friendly” or acceptable to parents name, such as Opportunity Center. This is the lowest level of structure above the home or feeder school. Typically, students do not choose their subjects nor have any control over their schedule. Sometimes they retain their courses from the feeder school, which supplies assignments and homework. The adult to student ratio is much smaller and more intense supervision is the norm. The Alternative School may impose extra restrictions to enforce the concept of discipline related to education. These restrictions may be dress codes, amount of free time or a closed campus. Almost every aspect of the student being at school becomes a learning experience. Most ALE’s in schools today are based on Academics and have no behavioral component to them. Student’s end up in ALE’s for a multitude of reason. Often students are placed for behavioral reasons and not academics. No behavioral component is present to help them develop appropriate behavior, so those students tend to disrupt that environment as well. These students are the ones moved to a more restrictive and costly environment (unnecessarily draining school and community resources) when all that is needed to service them is a behavioral component. (See below under Behavior)
Again the actual names will vary. This type of school is primarily concerned with Medium/Severe Mental Health issues and severe behaviors that have hindered the student (or his/her classmates) from learning. This type of school is often run by or in cooperation with a local Mental Health agency. The structure is under tighter control than the Alternative School but with the same goal of making every experience at school a learning opportunity. The behaviors targeted for extinguishing and the new ones to be learned will be discussed below.
This type of ALE is operated under legal sanctions imposed by a Juvenile Court and may be in conjunction with the School District and/or Mental Health Provider. Students who are assigned here have had contact with the court on criminal charges or status offenses. They may be adjudicated and sent to sanction school as part of the ruling. They may have been placed in a diversion program that required attendance at the Sanction School. Quite often the classroom aide in this school is a Deputy or other Law Enforcement Officer. NOTE: Keys To Safer Schools.com does not recommend using a School Resource Officer (SRO) in this role. Failure to comply with the structure in this school will usually result in harsher action from the court.
As its name implies, this school follows a military model. Because the intense structure demands larger numbers of personnel, few schools have this model but they appear in some form in almost every state, often with state sponsorship. Some are day schools and some are residential. The structure is very strict but counselors are available to help turn the stress into learning moments.
All of the above are meant to be temporary. From a few weeks to an entire school year, the stay should have a time limit or criteria for returning to main stream classes. Many of the students will thrive for the first time and want to remain. It is important to remember that the goal is to teach them to structure their own lives with self-discipline so that they will be ready for the “real world.”
Any ALE is still a school and academics should be central. One the greatest sources of disruptive behavior is frustration at not being able to achieve. Commonly, a student may be able to do required work in one or more subjects but not grasp others. A change in curriculum will often correct this sense of failure. There are several automated, grade-level differential curricula available. These will allow a student to succeed at his/her own pace at his/her grade level per subject. The benefit is that a student who learns to achieve academically is far more likely to be successful with social behaviors. An added benefit of these types of curricula is that allow a teacher to serve more students efficiently than traditional instruction methods. Since the teachers and aides in an ALE are essential to the Structure and Behavior components, it is essential that they have the most efficient tools available to them.
If new behavior is not learned, the time in the ALE is largely wasted. The behavior component is therefore absolutely critical to the success of any ALE. Most of the behaviors that bring students into ALE’s are learned, not organic. This means that they can be unlearned, or extinguished and replaced by more socially appropriate behaviors. Some ALE’s adopt a behavior curriculum and teach it as they would any other subject. Results are less than best. Others choose to totally ignore this highly needed component. Keys To Safer Schools.com believes that any truly effective behavior program must be fully integrated into the Structure and Academic components of the ALE.
Negative thoughts produce negative actions. The basis of any effective behavior modification must address the way that students see themselves. If they believe that they are designed for failure, they will fail. Throughout the school day, teachers and other staff must be alert for words and body language that indicate negative thinking, poor self-image. They will then redirect the words and actions from negative to positive. Speaking reinforces thinking and thinking will be expressed in action. The behavior component relies on the adults and even the other students to help guide speech through verbal cues and watch words.
Skills are also required in effective behavior modification. Most of the students who exhibit disruptive behavior have no problem-solving skills. When confronted with a challenge, they react with volume, anger and aggression. Teaching students how to go through simple steps in arriving at their best course of action will produce a marked decline in negative behaviors.
Being honest with students and giving them information will teach them to make better decisions on their own. Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs should be addressed with open information and then guide the students toward making their own positive choices. Other topics on potentially self-destructive behavior should be presented in the same manner. These might include self-mutilations, body piercing, risky sexual activity, driving recklessly and so on.
Keys To Safer Schools.com has helped schools plan, implement and operate Alternative Learning Environments. To have Keys help
your school with an ALE program, contact us today.
Learn what Others are saying about Keys
Keys To Safer Schools.com
P.O. Box 296, Bryant, AR 72089-0296.
(800) 504-7355 “toll free”
Visit the Keys website for valuable information and resource material on school violence prevention at http://keystosaferschools.com.
Programs to Combat Violence
- Kids are the Keys Assembly
- See the Lock Out Violence Everyday Campaign - A community violence prevention program.
- See SCHOOL SAFETY SITE ASSESSMENT
If you have any comments or questions please Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.