Editor's note: This is part of a series entitled "Innovative Approaches to Support At-Risk Youth."
Let’s face it. A traditional school approach doesn’t work for every student... and that’s okay. Fortunately, there are options in place for students interested in pursuing alternative pathways. Here are alternative options parents and students can consider.
1) High School Equivalency:
Students who are at least 17 (or 16 with a waiver) are eligible to pursue a high school equivalency diploma better known as the GED and currently renamed the TASC. In most districts students are not on their own. For students pursuing an equivalency there is often help for students prepare to advance to college and pursue career opportunities. Ask if your district has college and career coaches to help students plan for their futures. Some districts may have a workforce development program offering professional training and paid internships. More and more districts are also offering these students opportunities to walk for graduation and attend prom as well. If they don’t have a conversation and see what can be arranged.
While some parents and students consider an equivalency diploma to have a stigma associated with it, others see it as an innovative and efficient ticket allowing students to pursue academic or work passions. It’s also important to remember, that in the modern job market few people place their high school graduation on their LinkedIn resume.
2) Virtual School:
Many states now have virtual learning options available for students such as Nevada Connections Academy. Benefits of such options include that they are available at no cost, they provide a flexible pace and schedule, they can be taking from anywhere in the world. This is a safe option for students who have had issues with face-to-face connections, bullying, or social anxiety. If you don’t have a virtual school in your state, schools such as Florida Virtual accept out-of-state students.
Homeschooling is legal in every state. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about homeschooling. If you scratch below the surface you’ll learn some important facts about homeschooling. For instance, there is a high college acceptance rate for homeschoolers. You can receive a high diploma as a homeschooler. You don’t have to have parents or tutors teach you. There are lots of innovative options to learn such as jobs, internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing, and more. Those completely new to this idea can enroll in a program like Pacific Sands Academy which will walk parents and students through all the requirements for a high school diploma as well as provide support in developing a personal learning plan.
4) Career & Technical Education School:
Career and technical education (CTE) schools fell out of favor in the age of No Child Left Behind and College for All, but to the relief of many students, teachers, and parents, they are making a comeback. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that not everyone needs to pursue a career requiring college and that there are many honorable, high-salaried careers that don’t require a degree. The best place to pursue such options in New York City which has the largest portfolio of options that train about 60,000 students a year. If you visit a quality CTE school like Co-op Tech as you walk the school halls you will see students and work in fully operational beauty and barber shops, students constructing real buildings, an eyeglass repair store, car repair, and students fixing cars. Students are set up with paid internships and a real shot at a viable career upon completion of the program.
5) Drop In Options for Drop Outs:Many districts have options for students 21 or younger who have dropped out or fallen behind on credits. This varies from state to state and city to city. In places like New York City options include:A) Young Adult BoroughCenters: These are evening academic programs designed to meet the needs of high school students who might be considering dropping out because they are behind or because they have adult responsibilities that make attending school in the daytime difficult. Students attend part time and in the evening to earn a high school diploma. Students between the ages of 17.5 and 21, who are in their fifth year of high school and have earned at least 17 credits, are eligible.B) Transfer Schools: These are small, full-time high schools designed to re-engage students. These schools look at the credits a student has and provides a personalized plan for them to complete school providing extra support to help students meet academic and personal goals. Support includes access to workshops, tutoring, Regents prep, and extracurricular activities. Schools support students in developing college and career plans for life after high school. Many Transfer Schools have the added component ofLearning to Work, which offer students paid internships, job and career development, and more. Hear more from a student perspective in the following video.6) Alternative School ModelsThere are both public (Big Picture, Schoolwide Enrichment) and non-public (Agile, Montessori, Democratic) models that provide passion-based learning options that may be better suited for students. These models generally do away with traditional approaches that include teachers, tests, and textbooks and instead invite students to discover and pursue their passions. This post provides more details and additional information n each model.
What do you think? Are any of these options ones you think could work with students you know? Have you seen any of them in practice? Which ones resonate with you for the type of students you encounter?
Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.