Adolescent boxing during fitness class

Alternative Schools for Teen Dropouts

Schools often provide students with few choices and a small amount of freedom. The classes they must take are dictated by outsiders, the amount of time they must spend in class isn’t determined by how well they do in class, and their ability to move either slower or faster through the subject material might be curtailed by the pace set by other students in the class. Sometimes, students become so discouraged by the stifling nature of their schools that they simply choose to leave the promise of a good education behind them. If these students do choose to drop out, alternative schools may provide the help that can get them back on track.

Hard Choices

In the past, students who dropped out of school were expected to enter the job market immediately, and in some cases, these students did quite well without a formal education. For example, an article in the Huffington Post suggests that many famous actresses and actors never completed high school, including household names like Al Pacino, Bill Cosby, Johnny Depp and Cameron Diaz. Unfortunately, more and more modern companies refuse to hire people who don’t have a high school degree.

In fact, an article in the The New York Times suggests that a college degree is becoming the baseline requirement for entry-level jobs that dropouts might have held in the past.

If a person who drops out can’t hold an entry-level position, that person might not have any future at all.

Forcing that person back into the standard high school environment might not be a good idea, however, as these students might need a little extra help that a standard classroom just can’t provide. They might have mental health concerns that impede their ability to pay attention or to stay still, for example, or they might have substance abuse issues that have resulted in emotional development delays. Students like this tend to cause such chaos in standard classrooms that they’re often encouraged to leave, or they might spend all of the school day dealing with punishments due to their behavior.

New Options

Often, these alternative schools provide students with:

  • Low student/teacher ratios
  • Alternative teaching methods
  • Psychological counseling
  • Family-type atmosphere

Rather than placing a troubled child in a crowded classroom full of strangers and asking that troubled child to behave or get lost, an alternative school is designed to help that troubled student learn about academics while learning how to behave as an adult in an orderly and structured world. They might stay on track with their educational requirements, but they’ll also have the ability to learn more about how to control their behavior and behave appropriately. These are the skills they’ll need in order to succeed as adults, and alternative schools can help them come to life.

Some states provide specialized alternative schools based on a student’s interests. These states might provide specific schools for troubled teens who have a yen to work in automotive jobs as adults, for example, or the states might provide one alternative program for students with good reading skills and another to students with good math or science skills. These programs can be beneficial, as the emphasis might allow the student to spend more time on rewarding tasks and less time on frustrating lessons, but these programs aren’t provided in all states.

In addition, some facilities have strict rules regarding the use and abuse of alcohol or drugs, requiring students to be sober while in class. Some programs even require students to provide urine tests that prove they’re sober when they’re not in class. Some students with advanced cases of addiction find these rules hard to stick to, as they need counseling before they can be persistently sober. Thankfully, there are some alternative schools for teens that include substance abuse counseling in the package of services provided.

Strong Rules

Since students who enroll in these programs often have very persistent behavioral problems that have kept them from success in the past, many alternative schools have strict rules regarding the way students act. For example, an article in the The New Alternative Schools outlines a program in which students progressed in levels, earning more and more privileges as they went along. In the beginning, these students may have no opportunities for socialization or freedom at all. As they follow the rules, however, they may begin to arise from their desks from time to time, and perhaps even take a walk outside with the direction of a counselor.

It might sound harsh to place a young person in an environment like this, but it’s important to remember that these teens often have years of poor behavior standing behind them, and they may really need to understand how being good could translate into life’s rewards. The structure of an alternative program could make that lesson a little easier to understand. These rules might also help to keep other students in the program safe from the poor behaviors of others, so they really are vital.

Student Experiences

Students who drop out might do so for all sorts of reasons, but often, they make that choice due to a basic dislike for the schools they’re enrolled in. They don’t see the benefit in continued participation, so they make the disastrous choice to leave.

Alternative schools attempt to counter that by making the learning environment positive and uplifting, so students will enjoy their time and be motivated to stay enrolled. A study from The High School Journal suggests that alternative schools are achieving their goals.

Here, researchers found that students ranked their new schools as more positive than the schools they left behind. Remarkably, the students even felt that their interactions with people in authority were more positive in their alternative schools. Since students like this often have difficulty with teachers, principals and other people who are in charge, it’s notable that alternative schools seem to have the capacity to make the experience rewarding.

A second study also in The High School Journal suggests that the smaller class sizes and family atmosphere of alternative schools are also considered important by teen participants. Presumably, these students found it easier to learn in these different environments, and they enjoyed their time as a result.

Real Changes

While ensuring that students have fun so they don’t drop out is important, most parents want to ensure that the lessons their children learn in these programs will be rigorous enough to prepare these young people for successful careers. Thankfully, the evidence suggests that many of these programs can help to put people on the right track to steady employment. In a study conducted in Iowa, for example, researchers found that two-thirds of those who graduated from an alternative school in that state were employed, while 37 percent even went on to obtain some kind of higher learning after their alternative education experience. Clearly, this type of alternative education has the capacity to help at least some students do better than they would have had they dropped out and never gone back to school at all.

The counseling a program like this can provide might also help students to:

  • Talk over their concerns, rather than lashing out
  • Control their emotions
  • Move past negative thought patterns
  • Develop healthy relationships

These skills lessons could allow students to behave appropriately in school, but they could also help teens to enter the adult world with a bit more grace.

Finding a School

Since most educational programs are run at the state level, it’s difficult to make generalizations about availability programs in the United States. Some states might have many, many programs available for troubled teens with no waiting lists or enrollment difficulties, while others might have a complete lack of available programs and very strict requirements regarding eligibility. Often, parents of troubled teens are encouraged to work with the administrators of the child’s school, and if things go south, parents might be asked to contact the school board members in the community. Sometimes, though, parents still find that they cannot access a program that seems right for their child.

For these parents, looking for a program in another state might be a good option. There are many private institutions that offer alternative schooling to teens in trouble, and these schools might be willing to accept a troubled teen from a neighboring state and provide that child with necessary educational support and emotional counseling. Our program at Muir Wood, for example, provides adolescent teens with a progressive classroom experience that can meet California’s rigorous standards, but our program can also help young teens to deal with very real and persistent issues of substance use and abuse. Our teachers are all credentialed and capable of providing a top-notch educational experience, while our emphasis on emotional healing can allow a teen to really grow and stretch. If you’d like to know more about our academic program, including details about how our offerings match up with educational requirements in your home state, please download our parent’s guide, or just call us.