Oceanside school district’s alternative program helps at-risk kids

Oceanside school district’s alternative program helps at-risk kids
ALC administrator Barry Tyler said at the Feb. 4 OUSD board meeting that the ALC is saving kids lives by providing an alternative for students who do not do well in mainstream schools. Photo by Rachel Stine

OCEANSIDE — Of the more than 60 students in Oceanside Unified School District’s (OUSD) new academic program, many have had discipline issues at their previous school, including some who had been expelled. Several have had attendance problems while others were unable to attend mainstream schools because of health issues. But the Alternative Learning Center (ALC) is helping them to succeed.

The goal of the ALC, according to its administrator Barry Tyler, is to “have a place where (students) could come and focus only on education, and have support not just academically, but socially and emotionally.”

OUSD administrators decided to develop the center after a charter school applying to open a location in the district in 2012 highlighted the lack of options for students who have difficulty attending a mainstream school for academic, social, behavioral or medical reasons.

Geared towards students who are often deemed “at risk,” the ALC offers classes that are completely online, allowing students to work independently at their own pace.

The ALC utilizes tutors to guide students’ academic progress along with counselors to address their social and emotional needs.

The ALC opened its doors in January 2013 in a few computer lab classrooms on the Ocean Shores campus.

Sixty-two students from grades 6 though 12 were enrolled in ALC the spring 2013 semester and 61 students were enrolled in the fall 2013 semester.

Initial data has revealed that students who attended the ALC during its first semester achieved higher G.P.A.s, passed more classes and earned more credits towards graduation from when they attended mainstream OUSD schools.

And it’s only getting better. Compared to the pilot spring 2013 semester, students in the fall 2013 semester passed almost twice as many classes and earned almost double the number of credits.

They are also taking advantage of the counseling support services. The 61 fall semester students completed a total of 227 individual counseling sessions, 93 decision making sessions, 43 anger management sessions, and 24 substance abuse sessions among other counseling options available.

Laci O’Brien, 16, said she had been attending ALC for the past year after transferring from Oceanside High School.

“I was just hanging out with the wrong friends,” she said of her experience at her first high school.

But under the ALC’s guidance, she said her grades have improved and she’s making new friends.

“I’m building self-confidence,” she said with a wide smile.

“She’s getting the grades she should have been getting all along,” said her mother, Patricia O’Brien.

Presenting the ALC’s performance statistics were presented to the OUSD school board on Feb. 4, Tyler said it’s not an exaggeration to say that the center is “saving kids.”

He said without the ALC, many of these students would not have anywhere else to go in OUSD and they would not be getting the support they need to successfully pursue career, college, or military enrollment after high school.

Tyler explained that OUSD administrators are now looking to the ALC to offer an alternative to home suspension.

In fall 2013, students in OUSD garnered 1390 days of suspension, which caused the district to lose over $40,000 in funding.

Rather than sending suspended students home and missing out on funds, Tyler proposed sending these students to the ALC to participate in counseling and writing exercises to help them identify and adjust their problematic behavior.

He expressed hope that the ALC would be able to expand in the near future to more classrooms to up the program’s capacity to 120 students.

At the board meeting, Superintendent Larry Perondi said, “This is not cheap. But what price do you pay for students getting back in the system?”

 

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