Trail, British Columbia
Come on into our Alternative School. Sorry about our Sunday afternoon rumpus room look, but we're like a family here, and not an institution. The teen-agers here, who have various degrees of behavior, social, and academic problems, have been referred to the Alteranative School by some person of authority such as a teacher, social worker, perhaps a probation officer.
Although the students are all working on Grades 8 and 9 and study the same program offered at a nearby junior high, new ideas in a new way are introduced and the whole learning process (if necessary) is slowed down.
The head teacher who brings a solid background of academic and social experience to the school said, "There are no failures as far as achieving the grade level. If a student passes 9, he enters senior 10; if he doesn't he goes into 10 transitional where he's offered every opportunity to move into the regular class once he's capable of it."
The school was started in 1974 by a group of concerned teachers, social workers, and parents when they saw a need for an alternative to the regular junior high school program.
Students like Jenny spoke of difficulty in "getting along with other students." But that doesn't mean it's easy at the new school; the young people are still expected to face up to, not carry into the classroom, a bad scene from the night before, and to do their best.
Instructors say, "Our job is to stress communication, talk out a problem; sometimes we do this more than actual teaching."
Teachers make every effort to get to know the young people and help them to set goals for themselves, then achieve these goals.
They try to get them to think about their future, their place in society. And to accomplish all this, some relaxing of the rules is allowed. The students take a break in the lounge halfway through the morning session, have the usual lunch hou
It's a straight scene with only some deviation (discipline is good); respect for the teachers is excellent, and any other problems just need to be worked on.
Some of the youngsters are there because they were "forced," but most want to be at the school and have good feelings about it.
"I had to do a bit of adjusting at first," one boy admitted, "but my memories today are good ones. (He's since graduated from senior high and entered the labor force). "The freedom at the school was great and I liked the down-to-earth attitude of the instructors," he said.
An important part of the school program is the level system which works in the following manner: A chart on behavior, effort, and attendance is kept with daily recordings made.
These control and monitor the student's success rate.
There are five levels in all, but most students strive for the top, where they receive certain privileges such as using the health spa, the racquet courts , bowling sessions, and the lounge during free time. Levels 2 and 3 are the "average" areas; Level 4, probation, and Level 5, dismissal.
One of the child-care workers attached to the school said, "I feel this is no textbook situation. You learn as you go."
Her job is to contact all parents at the beginning of the year, spending one or two hours with them.
She also organizes life-skills programs and social events. The students are encouraged to participate in sports at the nearby junior high, but most consider their school a separate entity and rather than team up with the others, prefer good- natured challenging.
The Alternative School has proved itself in its seven years of operation. Of the more than 100 young people who have left the school, 85 percent are married, working, or continuing studies.