Arizona Department of Education

AIMS Intervention and Dropout Prevention Program TOOLKIT

Exemplary Program

Buena High School Alternative Learning Center (2008 Profile)

Contact information

Dave Jones, Assistant Principal

Buena High School Alternative Learning Center

Buena High School

5225 E Buena School Blvd

Sierra Vista, AZ 85635

520-515-2800

email: jonesd@svps.k12.us

Description

The Buena High School Alternative Learning Center offers an array of educational programs to high school students. Its mission is to reduce the number of students that drop out of school prior to graduation. The center is located on the campus of Buena High School in a new facility designed to create a college library environment. The center houses its own faculty and staff, as well as classroom space, computers, labs and meeting space. Students may choose to participate in a full alternative high school curriculum or take courses for specific credits needed to graduate from the main high school. Students can earn credits towards their AA diploma at nearby Cochise College. An individualized program is available for special needs students.

The ALC targets students who have previously dropped out of school, who have demonstrated problems adjusting to a traditional classroom setting, who have scored poorly on AIMS Testing, who are pregnant and/or raising families, and who have been suspended from school. About one third of students are from minority populations. In 2007-08 the school provided services to about 268 students.

The ALC uses a variety of instructional methods and academic programs. All students work individually on their course work under the direction and supervision of three full time teachers, two aides, and a full time counselor. The curriculum, using paper-based modules and computer-based support materials, is designed by the American Preparatory Institute and meets Arizona State Standards. It allows students to work at a pace and comfort level that meets their needs.

The ALC provides all enrolled students the opportunity receive tutoring and mentoring; each student has an Individualized Educational Plan which is closely monitored by the assistant principal and faculty to ensure that individual objectives towards successful outcomes are being met.


Program design


Goals


To reduce the number of students who drop out prior to graduation through individualized learning, credit recovery and non-traditional instructional methods.


Philosophy

To provide an alternative model of education for students who do not succeed in a traditional classroom environment or who need to make up unearned credits.

Criteria for success


Complete course credits, pass AIMS tests, make up credits to stay in high school, graduate from high school

Distribution of activities

50% Improvement in academic achievement

35% AIMS test-taking skills or practice testing

10% Workplace skills preparation

5% Leadership and civic duty (e.g., community service)

What contributes most to student success?

Program design

The design for the alternative school was revamped and inaugurated under the leadership of the assistant principal in 2006. Years of experience as a high school principal combined with extensive research on successful alternative education programs resulted in how the ALC functions today. The design focuses on a personalized educational experience through individualized learning, high levels of support from adults, clear rules and expectations, high academic standards, and a close connection with the regular high school.

The ALC offers three sessions during the day and Saturday school, and students enroll into one of the three sessions. The morning session, which operates from 7:30 to 11:30 am, attracts younger students who are attempting to regain their position in their class and return to regular high school. After the morning session, the students may take 2 elective classes at the regular high school. Students attending this session may use school bus transportation to get to and from school. The afternoon session takes place from 12:00 to 4:00 pm. Students who attend the afternoon session are seeking a more flexible schedule and may chose to take classes at the regular high school in the morning. The evening session takes place from 4:00 to 9:00 pm. The students attending this session are often older students who have jobs and/or children. There are no evening classes on Fridays. Saturday school provides tutoring for any student in the regular or alternative high school, as well as a required class for late and tardy students. Students from the regular high school may enroll in courses for credit recovery in any of the sessions. Students approaching graduation who are short on credits often enroll to complete one or two courses needed to graduate.

Individualized instruction and flexible daily activities

All course work in the alternative center uses individualized instruction. Students work individually under the tutelage of three teachers and two aides. Courses are paper-based (rather than computer-based, although computers are available) and are composed of modules that require students to complete a set amount of work each week. Each module is graded and must be passed in order to move on to the next module. Completion of all modules for the course results in the needed credit. The minimum grade allowed is a "B". Assignments must be reworked until a "B" grade is attained. Students may move as quickly as they are able through their course work so long as they obtain a "B" or higher. Many students are able to proceed through their course work and acquire their credits at a rapid pace. Students taking multiple courses have a good deal of flexibility in how they spend their time and structure their day, so long as they complete the required coursework within the given time frame. For example, a student may choose to work on math for an entire day and on English the next. This flexibility allows students with different learning styles and skill levels to proceed at a pace that is suited to their needs. Some students acquire their credits at a faster pace than occurs in the traditional classroom setting. Students who need support with any specific part of the coursework or particular assignment receive individual assistance and instruction from the teachers and aides in the classroom. The individual learning needs of each student are met through this instructional strategy.

Teacher as facilitator and resource

The role of the teacher at ALC is not a typical one. The teachers act as learning facilitators and coaches for the students. They grade the students' work in all subjects, give them individual feedback on their assignments, and provide support to them regarding questions they have about subject content and assignments. Rather than working with groups of students simultaneously, the teachers work one-on-one with each student, meeting each one at his or her specific level of need. For students and teachers alike, this creates an unusual working relationship. Teachers commented that they are able to meet the specific needs of each student and steer individual student work, particularly writing assignments, in directions that appeal to individual student interests. This creates additional motivation for students that helps engage them in the learning process. Students commented that they prefer working this way because they get immediate answers to their questions and the direct support that they need. Teacher aides, who are fluent in Spanish, are present to assist the teachers and students as needed.

Open classroom environment

Although individual classrooms are available for specific class work needs and events, the main classroom at ALC resembles a college library with large tables where students sit and work individually. Computers line the perimeter of the room and students use them as needed for their coursework. The two teachers and aides sit at desks on either side of the room. Students approach the teachers individually with questions about their work. The set up of the room lends an air of seriousness, quiet, and concentration. For many of the students who do not excel in traditional classrooms, this atmosphere contributes to focusing on the work that they need to complete without having numerous distractions.

Clear rules and expectations

Students must apply to get into the school. They and their parents must sign an agreement to fulfill the requirements laid out during the application process including the classes to be taken, the completion dates for those classes, and attendance and behavioral expectations. Not meeting the requirements laid out in the contract results in meetings with the parents and student. Expectations about behavior and performance are reinforced every day for students in their interactions with the assistant principal, the teachers and the counselor.

Students

Background

ALC attracts all kinds of students. Most of the students approach the school because they are behind in credits. The student body is composed of former dropouts, students with low grades and few earned credits, students who did not pass AIMS tests, students who work during the day, pregnant and/or parenting students, students who were suspended, etc. Many of the students have complications in their personal lives that have made attending school regularly and academic achievement difficult.

Recruitment

Most students are referred to ALC by the main high school's guidance counselors, the school social worker and the court system. Students are not admitted into the ALC program unless they express a desire to attend regularly and be engaged in the work.

Setting goals

Goal setting and achievement are key themes for ALC students. When they enroll, each student creates a graduation plan with the guidance counselor. They identify the time line for work to be completed and a structured schedule for the completion of course work. The counselor and teachers assist the students in establishing personal goals for success, which includes having students recognize their individual strengths and where they need assistance. The students design a timeline and a plan for progress. They also identify incentives that will encourage and reinforce their efforts. Students must also identify areas that have hindered the accomplishment of their goals in the past. They are also assisted in identifying the effort necessary to complete their courses. The students hold regular conferences with the assistant principal, the teachers, and the counselor to monitor and evaluate their progress and adjust their plans as needed.

Taking responsibility for learning


Students take responsibility for their learning in various ways. With the help of the teachers and counselors, students must learn to use planning tools and strategies to calculate how many lessons they need to complete and pass per week in order to show required progress. Because they do their class work individually with the assistance of the teachers and aides, they must be self-motivated to complete the tasks they need to do every day. They can structure the time they spend at school however they decide will best meet their needs to get the required work done. This results in a different level of engagement and responsibility for their own learning for many of the students in relation to their previous academic experiences. As students track their work, they need to have a clear sense of the level of effort needed to complete their tasks.

Motivation and incentives

Motivation is an area of constant challenge. Students tent to respond most to small incremental accomplishments – like completing the next module – rather than farther goals like graduating. Students are motivated by learning to identify and internalize success as they move forward in completing their course work at high academic standards. One of the teachers stated that with guidance, students begin to recognize the value of their own effort but can become complacent if rewards are not balanced with true and realistic analysis and judgment of their effort. A big motivator is recognizing the value of their own effort in accomplishing their learning goals. Students are also motivated by receiving constant feedback about their work, having close individual contact with the teachers and counselors, and having the personal relationships that keep them focused and encouraged. Students get a lot of support from adults.


Perspectives

A-is an 11th grader who likes the challenge and the seriousness of the school. He is earning credits rapidly, is taking two classes at Cochise College, and plans to graduate one year early. He said the individual learning took some time to get used to, but once he got used to it he much prefers it to the regular high school. He particularly likes not having to deal with the "drama" of other students in the regular classroom setting. He likes being able come in to school and have the flexibility of deciding how he will spend his day, focusing on what he thinks he can best get done. He plans on studying engineering in post-secondary school.

G – is a 12th grader who is quickly catching up on missed credits. He likes being able complete writing assignments on themes and topics that are important to him. He likes the close relationship with the teachers. He thinks that without the special features this school offers he might not have finished high school. He plans to attend post-secondary education.

Institutional support

Staff and staff effectiveness

The staff meets twice monthly on days where delayed opening occurs for common planning sessions. Core faculty members discuss instructional methods, individual student progress, review student outcome data, and conduct weekly scheduling activities. One of the keys to staff effectiveness at ALC is that teachers have time to discuss individual students and devise strategies for meeting their specific needs.

Professional development

The professional development opportunities at ALC mirror those of the main high school. Teacher mentoring and training opportunities are available for all teaching staff. New teachers undergo a highly structured program that includes orientation, training and instructional assistance as well as support. The district policy is to retain highly qualified teachers.

Continuity across grade levels

Continuity across grade levels occurs mainly through the individual support students receive as they progress through their course work. Grades levels may straddle school years as students complete their course work. Students entering the main high school attend the freshman academy which is organized especially to help 9th graders transition into high school by providing them additional support and study skills. In addition, the school hosts a two-week summer bridge program for at-risk 8th graders from the nearby feeder schools to help them become familiar with and prepare them for their high school career. Students receive ½ of a credit for completing the program.

Program evaluation

The principle methods of evaluating the program are student grade point averages, courses completed during the year, AIMS results, college and vocational program enrollment and attendance.

Program environment

Attendance

Attendance is monitored on an hourly basis as required by state law. Students who are absent are contacted immediately and followed up on.

Support and caring: the role of the counselor

In addition to the one-on-one relationships students have with teachers, ALC has a full-time counselor who works very closely with each student to provide additional academic and affective support. Because of the flexibility of the daily academic schedule of the students, the counselor can meet with them any time they are at school. The counselor reported that students spend a lot of time in his office talking about their personal issues because many of them have challenging personal and family situations. Many of the older students who live on their own seek advice about personal matters. The counselor maintains communication with parents of students living at home who experience difficulties in successfully completing in their coursework. The counselor's office and hallway are filled with personal displays, student photos and artwork that pay tribute to students' accomplishments.

School safety

The Sierra Vista School District has a violence prevention plan that includes conflict resolution, crisis management and violence prevention. The school employs police officers that provide support to students, supervision of the school and the campus area. The campus also uses drug dogs. The student dress code is actively enforced on a daily basis. The biggest activity related to students and school safety, however, is knowing the students well and being proactive in terms of finding out about problems before they occur.

Parent and family involvement

Parents must sign an agreement when their child enrolls in the school and they are kept informed of the student's progress through quarterly reports. The counselor has the most frequent contact with parents, mostly through telephone conversations. Parents also attend open houses.

Partnerships and linkages

The ALC has initiated partnership arrangements with many different business in the community including many of the military contracting firms in order to provide its students job opportunities that will help with the transition from school to work. Previously, this program was limited in scope because of a shortage of staff to monitor students. The addition of a Social Worker has allowed the programs to expand to the point where many students are actively involved in structured work-study.

Buena High School has also forged a partnership with Cochise College and the Cochise County Consortium Task Force in the development of a College Program for high school students. This program provides students from the high school and ALC with opportunities to complete their high school experience while receiving college credits. The program is designed to provide students who successfully complete the program with two degrees, a high school diploma and an Associate Degree. This is accomplished by engaging students in up to two years of demanding college-level work. The Early College Program serves as an additional strategy for closing the achievement gap and reducing dropout rates, while increasing college enrollment, and the number of students that earn college degrees.

Academics

AIMS Intervention

All of the subject areas are aligned with state standards and AIMS tests. Students are helped with test-taking strategies. Significant progress was made in the area of AIMS achievement as students met or approached state academic requirements at a greater rate after having participated in the program than in prior attempts.The addition of a Social Worker, along with increased numbers of students participating in tutoring programs and the implementation of a structured work study program, have been credited with the substantial increases that occurred in AIMS achievement rate increases.

Curriculum

The curriculum used at ALC is designed by the American Preparatory Institute. See the program description and individualized instruction sections above.

Instructional strategies

See the sections on individualized instruction and teacher as facilitator above.

Assessment strategies

Students are graded on every module they complete on a daily basis. Therefore, there is close monitoring of their performance, which is reviewed and discussed by the faculty particularly in cases where students are facing serious shortfall. In addition, students must attain an 80% grade on all modules before they may proceed to the next one.

Resources

The primary resources available are the library, computers, the internet, teacher aids, LCD projector, TVs, and presentations by outside speakers.

Technology

The facilities at ALC have up-to-date technological resources. Students use computers for selected classes and assignments. In addition to having access to computers in the classrooms, students may check out laptops to work on their assignments at school. CD roms, videos and other educational media are commonly used.

Vocational, leadership, workplace, and life skills

Community service and service learning

 

Mentoring

Mentoring and tutoring services are available to all students; this service is ongoing and has become an essential part of the program, especially for students that require additional support to achieve academic success. In addition to informal tutoring services, which are provided, the ALC also offers structured study skills classes where students receive credits towards graduation for their participation. Tutoring is available on Saturdays to all high school students, including students from the main high school.

Vocation/Career

The District has been able to leverage state funding with federal funding through the U.S. Department of Education to develop theme-based vocational programs that link students enrolled in the ALC with instruction on automotive repair, construction arts, child development, and technology/computer applications. These programs provide students with the skills necessary to seek permanent employment opportunities in highly paid professions. The Alternative Tech Programs are available weekday evenings and on Saturday mornings.

In addition, students are involved in structured work-related programs that allow them to earn credits towards graduation. Students must document their progress towards individual goals to receive work-study credit.

Transitional services

Placement in higher education

Students have a direct link to higher education through participating in courses at Cochise College. Students have the opportunity to graduate from high school and attain an AA degree simultaneously. Other support for placement in higher education take place through the counselor who connects students with higher education opportunities in Arizona, helps them complete the application process, and helps students and their parents by conducting financial planning sessions.

Placement in jobs

School officials maximize the partnerships and linkages they have created within the community to explore job opportunities for their students, and provide services including letters of reference.

Site visit information

 

Claire Brown from LeCroy & Milligan Associates visited the ALC on May 7, 2008. Data for the program profile were compiled from interviews, field notes, reports, school documents and examples of student work.

Staff interviewed

Dave Jones, Assistant Principal

Joe Baeza, Counselor

Wayne Tucker, Teacher

Alicia Rackers, Teacher

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