Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Alternatives **Updated**

What is the alternative to alternative schools? We'd better figure it out soon because budget woes in Illinois may equal zero funding for alternative education next school year.

So what? These are students who don't know how to behave in "real" school anyway. They made their choices, now they have to live with them. Rotten kids.

At least that's how a lot of folks regard students enrolled alternative schools. How sad. How can we be willing to write off a kid simple because he made some mistakes when he was 15. Really? Those who don't support alternative programs are the same people who rail against social welfare for these kids when they are adults and unable to work because they dropped out of school and had no other options.

30 years ago a teen could drop out of high school and get a decent job at age 17. These days, it's impossible to find work if you don't have a high school diploma. (GED prep programs are on the chopping block, too.) If a kid does find a job, it's certainly not the sort of job that will provide insurance or a living wage. Then what?

Most folks have absolutely no idea what kind of students are served in our alternative programs. The assumption is that they are students who don't know how to behave. This is simply not true. The stories I hear break my heart.

There's the student who was kicked out of his dad's house because his step-mom didn't like him. No way to get to school, no place to stay. Or the boy who's been in foster-care for most of his life but because he's turned 18, his foster-mother will no longer care for him. Again, homeless...oh wait, he did find a couch/corner to sleep in and ended up with spider bites all over his body, so many that he had to go to the hospital. How about the young lady who smoked weed for the first time at age 8...with her mom. Now at age 16 she struggles with addiction issues. Or the girl who has been in and out of foster care who is currently living in a condemned trailer in the worst trailer park in the area.

These kinds of kids come to school with so much other baggage that conforming in the "traditional" high school environment is virtually impossible. Ideally, every child should come from a home with loving, caring adults who are able to provide guidance, discipline and direction. That's the idea.

The reality is vastly different. We can wring our hands, rail against negligent parents and berate these children for their bad behavior. But the fact is, these kids exist. I don't care HOW they got to this point. They're here. What do we do with them? Discard and disregard them? Leave them to their own devices?

What will happen to them? Jail? Welfare? Public Aid? Those options are far more expensive than providing an alternative setting for them now. An alternative setting that not only provides them with the academic skills they need but also a chance to grow socially and emotionally.

Many of the students I teach remind me of the feral cats in my neighborhood...skittish, fearful and weary of anyone willing to lend them a hand. We take students from wherever the are in their lives and try to build them up to expect more of themselves. We teach them that making bad choices early in their lives does not mean their fates are sealed. We try to break the cycles of dysfunction that exist in their lives.

Most of us who work with these kids believe that a society is only as strong as its weakest member and we have an obligation to help those who aren't able (for whatever reason) to help themselves.

If funding for our alternative schools disappears, our students belief that they don't matter and no one cares will be reaffirmed.

**Here's a picture of 10 out of the 11 students who will receive diplomas this spring from the alternative school I teach in.

Maybe one of my readers...or a state representative has the heart to tell these guys they don't count, won't amount to anything or aren't worth a second chance. You do it. Not me.


Emerge Peoria said...

This saddens me. The alternative schools catch so many children.

I just can't imagine that these would be allowed to fall by the wayside.

If you can save gifted schools (which are alternative programs), why can't you save this type of alternative school?

School districts have got to get their priorities straight and FAST.

Rixblix said...

Actually, the state does not fund G/T programs. That line item was eliminated the year we moved to the area. If a school district offers G/T services, it's on their dime. Oddly enough, there are an awful lot of extremely bright kids who end up in our programs...school got boring so they acted out, several with undiagnosed learning disabilities who, in earlier grades, were able to fake it till high school.

Ramble On said...

Between lack of alternative schools and early childhood education for at-risk children, it is truly a sad situation.