Originally Posted by Greaseball
For anyone with experience...what I'm wondering is, how "alternative" are they really? And if they are free and in the same building, wouldn't most parents want their kids to go there instead? Do they do the same work as the regular students? Are students accepted on the basis of academic achievement, having a hard time in a traditional school setting, first come first serve, or other reasons? Do the kids go through standardized testing?
What this makes me think of is the "alternative" birth centers that are found inside hospitals - in other words, not very far removed from the mainstream.
My dd1 has been four years (K through 3rd grade so far) in just such an alternative program of the public school district. We LOVE it! Free but so much better (IMO of course) than our other public school options. I will try to answer your questions. (wish I knew how to quote with skips in between...)
1. I don't know exactly what you consider alternative but ours still has one teacher and 22 kids. They still have subjects like math and spelling and art and science. They do take standardized testing. It may appear to you similar to "regular" elementary schools. BUT it is quite different in the same ways a previous poster mentioned - a lot of respect, high expectations, more "outside the box" thinking/teaching/learning. We have an outdoor classroom (though I don't believe it is used a lot), visits from tribal elders who share stories with the kids - really amazing! The kids work at their own level (we are multi-age) and I love that. They really get a lot of practice working out their own problems and being resourceful. I could go on and on so I will get to the next question!
2. Our school is not really advertised that heavily (think they put an ad in the local paper about an open house once a year) so many people don't even know we exist. I lived in this town for 9 years and had no idea at all until a friend told me. Although to you and me, it would seem that everyone would want such a great, free program, many people IRL (not here at MDC) avoid something new and different; they want to do what everyone else does.
3. Our kids cover the same basic concepts but in a different way. Dd1's teacher is so fun and makes everything so incredible - you can't help but love it. There is still homework, spelling tests, morning meeting, etc. but just done in new, fun, respectful ways. I especially love that they never assume a kid couldn't do something - it is always "let's give it a try".
When my dd was in kindergarten she came home with info on an after school chess club. I assumed it was for the older kids (it is a K through 5th grade school) so called to check. No, kindergartners were welcome to join if they wanted. She did and learned some basic moves. Was she proficient in chess after that? No, but she felt like a million bucks and did learn some stuff that got her started. Another example is their homework - they have some things that are just required and other things where they can make choices about which to do. Spelling - there are 20 ways to practice and you initial the ones you choose to do. If you do four or more ways per week, you get a 4 (highest point scale). Ways ranged from typing your words out, to spelling them out loud as you jumped rope, to fingerspelling them in shave cream, to spelling them out with Alphabits, to calling a friend on the phone and quizzing each other. Dd LOVED spelling because it was so fun and she was in control of how she wanted to practice.
4. Kids are accepted (at our school) in a lottery system. You jump hoops (attend open house, fill out paperwork, tour without kid, tour with kid, meeting with principal) then all those who did all the steps get put in the lottery. It used to be more of a choice system (they tested the kids - not academically but more if they would take direction from the adult, if they could stay on task for a period of time, etc.) as our kindergarten is with the 1st grade so is full day and obviously wouldn't work for some 5 year olds. Our program is not for kids with behavior problems per se - there is a different program for that. I think you get more of the "didn't work out in regular classes/behavior issue" kids in the alternative programs in the high school level.
5. Our school is not within a school; we have our own freestanding site. I think that allows us more freedom to do some new things than it would if we were in another school. I understand your analogy to a birth center within a hospital - the freestanding ones are a whole different animal. My dd's school is freestanding so I guess I can't specifically talk to that but I would go in and look at your option and see what your gut feeling is. And ask if they have any alternative programs off site in your district. Ours is a very small district and I am so thankful that we have this option!!