One of the things that’s amazing about humans is that we’re all so mismatched and different. We look different, have different cultural backgrounds and lived experiences; we have different viewpoints on…well…everything. We all have different ways of thinking and communicating and learning.
These differences are exciting and can be frustrating, especially when we’re trying to get people to fit into a mold and behave in a certain way. Which is exactly what we do in a traditional classroom.
Our educational system has remained much the same for the last 100 years, with children grouped by age, sitting in desks, listening to a teacher talk. It’s a shame that’s what school looked like 100 years ago, and it’s a shame that even with all the research, knowledge, and resources that we have now, that’s still what school looks like for so many of our youth.
When will the “powers that be” make the needed changes so that our children can be the mismatched, colorful learners they are?
Alternative schools, schools that go against the norm, aren’t new. But because they’re different and not embraced by educational systems and state legislatures, they’ve been slow to gain traction.
The big concerns about alternative schools?
They’re too small, so kids don’t get the traditional school experience, especially in middle school and high school. Because of the school size, kids can’t participate in sports and they don’t have a wide range of classes, electives, and extracurricular activities to choose from. Many families are also concerned about high school students qualifying for college entrance because of the structure of the alternative school.
The thing is, if you do your homework there are plenty of alternative schools available to your kiddos. Schools that will provide the academic challenges they need while taking the whole child into account. You will also find that students from alternative or homeschools are readily admitted into colleges.
Why we need alternative schools
Let’s go back to the original challenge that schools have: They’re trying to educate hundreds, even thousands, of children in the exact same way. If you’ve been in a public school classroom in the last 10 years, you know that every child is so uniquely different.
If you’ve never taught in a classroom before, you would be shocked at the many differences among the 30-something kids in the room. When we throw a group of similarly aged kids into a classroom together and expect them to all learn the same way, at the same rate, we’re doing a disservice to both the kids and the teachers.
(And if you’ve never taught in a classroom before, what business do you have making decisions about what happens in the classroom?)
There are three big reasons why alternative schools work. They care for the whole child; they are better equipped to create engagement (true learning) with the kids; and they build community among the kids, parents, teachers, and beyond.
Children aren’t just little people, waiting to grow up. They’re unique individuals with special needs…even if those needs don’t come with an IEP or 504 plan.
Traditional public schools don’t have the ability to customize instruction and learning because teachers are busy navigating through red tape, teaching to the test, and dealing with 30+ kids at a time who all need individualized attention.
Alternative schools tend to have smaller class sizes, significantly less red tape, and a mission to care for the whole child. In an alternative school, meeting standards matters, but teachers have the freedom to get students there in a way that works for individual learners. It’s not a prescribed plan, because you can’t prescribe the same curriculum to every student. It just doesn’t work.
This can look like:
- Children choosing projects that interest them
- Looped classes with the student having the same teacher for more than one year
- Time spent learning outside the classroom
- Knowledge demonstrated through multiple intelligences
- Group work where the students lead the way
- Children leading parents and teachers through conferences
- Mastery learning where students don’t have to do work they have demonstrated to already have mastered
- Classes volunteering in the community to support the school’s mission
- Constructivist / design-thinking where students generate the information needed to create
- Children with chronic illnesses having the time they need to complete assignments
- Opportunity to move around (What human can be engaged when sitting for 7 hours?)
- Teachers as coaches, guiding learning aligned with students’ needs and interests
- Trauma-informed learning with students learning self-awareness, regulation, and advocacy skills
- “Do-overs” where students get to rework materials (without penalty) until work reflects the learning goal has been met
Families do not have to settle for one-size-fits-all education. Our children deserve so much more. Finding an alternative middle or high school for your unique child isn’t challenging when you’re looking in the right places.
What type of alternatives might you find? You have many choices. Micro-schools with a deep focus on each learner. Project-based schools aligned to passion and purpose. Schools with community-based experiential learning and internships.Theme-based “choice” schools.
These schools are looking for families ready to let go of being locked into the 1890s model. These alternatives have moved past this model with the teacher dispensing information and passive learners filling rows of desks.
It’s not too late to make this year one of engaging learning. Contact us today to find out if LEADPrep is a good alternative for your child.