Students identified as troubled or troubling tend to flourish in alternative learning environments where they believe that their teachers, staff, and administrators care about and respect them, value their opinion, establish fair rules that they support, are flexible in trying to solve problems, and take a nonauthoritarian approach to teaching.

1.Interactions between students and the staff are non-authoritarian in nature. Positive, trusting, and caring relationships exist between staff, and between students and staff.

2. Program administrators and staff subscribe to the philosophy that all students can learn. These programs communicate and support high expectations for positive social, emotional, behavioral, and academic growth in all students.

3. Program and school administrators are leaders who support the vision and mission of their programs; effectively support staff; listen to teachers, students, and parents; and genuinely care about their students.

4. Program philosophies emphasize that it is the educational approach rather than the individual student that needs to be changed to accommodate learning differences among at-risk students.

5. Teachers receive specialized training (e.g., behavior and classroom management, alternative learning styles, communication with families) to support their effectiveness in working with students who do not succeed in traditional educational settings.

6. The opinions and participation of family members in the education of their children is valued, and students’ families are treated with respect.

7. Clean, safe, and well-maintained facilities create a healthy environment for learning.

8. Community support.

9. Small class size and small student body.

10. Targeted to a specific population.

11. Transition support.

Advocates of both the “broken child” and “broken system” philosophies do agree on the need for alternatives to traditional educational settings.

Although alternative schools are not a new phenomena, it has been hard to study these schools in a rigorous manner that specifies the necessary components of effective alternative programs for the variety of students who attend these programs.

The purpose of the evaluations I will be conducting starting in June will be to identify the components of programs that effectively meet the diverse, ever-changing needs of children with disabilities for whom traditional school settings do not work, and to develop a conceptually clear and empirically grounded definition of alternative schools for parents and other referring professionals. My intent is to focus on how alternative schools function, their characteristics, the degree to which they meet indicators of quality, and the factors that help them achieve quality. Site visits are being used to collect qualitative data. This information will be made available to the public.

“Morale was low when she came to [program name], but the teachers encouraged her to finish. When she recovered her lost credits she preferred to stay at [program name]. At [this program] she doesn’t just have a teacher, she has a friend.” – M. Cruz, Austin, Texas, 13-year-old daughter in alternative learning school.

“Yes, no more ditching school. I go back to my room and read books. I am more organized than before, school is important now. My grades have improved. I enjoy school now. I get along better with others.” – Trent D., California, 14-year-old in a private alternative school setting.

I credit this improvement in school attendance to increased student success, excitement about learning, and students’ sense of belonging within the alternative program.

Parents have said that initially they viewed placement in an alternative program as a punishment or “dumping ground” for their children.

However, their opinions changed after the first few weeks of their children’s enrollment in an alternative program. In fact, one father shared with me that initially he did not seek help for his daughter because someone told him that the alternative schools would manacle (confine) his daughter to a chair. I saw this father earlier this year and he shared with me:

” My daughter was there for two years, graduated a year early, went to a nationally recognized culinary school.” He gave me a big hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! She’s such a success…!” I forget where he said she would be going next. You know, he was just thrilled. And he was in here crying at first. His daughter was 15 when he walked into my office and cutting on an almost daily basis. Bend, Oregon

Author's Bio: 

Dore E. Frances, Ph.D. began her small independent therapeutic consulting practice as an Advocate in Pacific Grove, California in 1988. In her work as an Advocate, she became familiar with the processes and strategies families develop to find appropriate educational matches for their children. In the course of her work, she also became aware that these inherent family strategies and processes do not always work the same way for every family.

In order to better understand adolescent development, family development, family dynamics, programs, schools and students, Dore received a masters degree in Child and Family Studies.

This provided the framework for her previous experience in advocacy work and independent educational / therapeutic assistance and inspired her to expand her personal Independent Educational / Therapeutic Consulting practice with an office in Pacific Grove, California. Simultaneously she worked in the grief counseling field assisting children and families through the trauma of loss.

She remained in this work at The Hospice of Monterey until 2003, when she moved to Coeur d' Alene, Idaho, maintaining an independent office there.

Dore then moved to Bend, Oregon in 2004 where she is currently a member of Advocates for Children of Trauma, the American Bar Association as an Advocate, a member of Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, a member of The National Association of Parents with Children in Special Education and an associate member of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs.

Between 2005 and 2008 Dore also volunteered with CASA of Deschutes County.

Dore previously served as the Executive Director for the non-profit Positive Directions Foundation in Santa Cruz, California, a whole child and family approach offering workshops to communities and schools focusing on such areas of concern as alcohol and drug addiction in teens, pathways to positive directions for youth, reducing bullying behaviors, teen pregnancy, and teen and family relationships.

Dr. Frances has a Masters Degree in Child & Family Studies and a Doctorate of Applied Human Development in Child and Family Development with an emphasis in Diverse Families and a minor in Child Advocacy.

Dr. Frances provides a professional relationship for all of her clients with a compassionate and sensitive commitment to each unique individual.