Another 45 students are expected to graduate from Evanston Township High School this year, thanks to the efforts of the Alternative or “Alt” School.
With this addition, a total of 98 students who were once at risk of not finishing school will have graduated since the program’s inception just two years ago in January 2015.
In addition to helping participants meet graduation requirements, social emotional support, peer support, reintegration, and post secondary planning are also part of the “glue” that make up the program, said Taya Kinzie, Associate Principal of Student Services, who provided an update on the program at the May 8 District 202 School Board Meeting.
The Alt School offers students an alternative learning environment to help those who are at least one semester behind on the number of credits needed to graduate.
The program is based at ETHS but differs from the traditional format, offering two sessions during the day and an evening school two days a week. Students also participate in work study and work practicum.
Classes are primarily computer-based which allows students to work at their own pace but also facilitates direct instruction with two classroom teachers.
The program serves general and special education students and offers a range of courses. AP and Honors classes are also offered in collaboration with the program. Many students are dually enrolled in traditional classes and the Alt School.
Dr. Dondelayo White, Director of Support Services, in a written report to the Board, said, “The Alt School team collaborates with counselors to develop students’ reintegration plans.
“Currently, several students in the Alt School Program are taking courses in mainstream classes ranging from PE to pre-calculus. The Alt School team was notified recently that a student in the Alt Program is being recognized by the Math department with a leadership award.”
“One size does not fit all, and we recognize that and individualize and make the school smaller for those who need that,” said Ms. Kinzie. Students in the Alt School are not only credit deficient, but many share characteristics such as chronic truancy, external stressors, and lack of success.
Students are reintegrated into traditional classrooms when it is felt they “will be successful,” said Ms. Kinzie. Exit criteria from the Alt School include improved attendance, reduced discipline issues and credit recovery.
Alt School students must also have a post-secondary plan. Post-Secondary planning is “everyone’s job here at ETHS and the Alt School has done a great job of exemplifying that.” Students in the program learn negotiation skills, active listening, and other life skills that will help them to succeed after ETHS.
Board Member Monique Parson said she appreciated the “evolution” of the program and the emphasis on post-secondary planning, saying it is “not good if their comfort zone stops here. We have to be intentional and be sure students are prepared.”
Comments made in exit interviews with five outgoing students gave a glimpse at how impactful the program is at ETHS.
“This program means a lot to me. I was struggling going from class to class. In here, I can focus on one class at a time. In here there is no drama. Everyone laughs and jokes but at the same time, motivates each other to graduate. I feel like some frown upon the Alt School because when they hear ‘Alternative,’ they think of ‘bad kids’ but it’s the opposite in here. We all have one goal: to graduate.”
“This program was life changing for me. After missing a few days and not doing any work, I was told my spot would be given up. At that point, my whole mind-set changed. I started to come to school and work hard and now I am going to graduate.”
“The Alt School is more than just a program, it’s like my second home. The staff shows they care and want us to succeed. If it was not for this program I would not be [graduating this year].”
“It was like a fresh start for me. I was given a chance to correct my mistakes and prepare for the future.”
“The program helped me understand some classes more than traditional learning.”
“The Alt School Program will continue to assess student data to determine instructional courses offered to meet the needs of the students,” Dr. White said in her report. “Additionally, the Alt School team is brainstorming and collaborating with other staff members as to how to expand the program to meet the needs of our students. Furthermore, next school year the program will expand the curriculum to include guest speakers and field trips to address students’ vocational post-secondary goals.”