Children who go to a public or private schools are often praised for their good grades and athletic achievement. They join sports teams, participate in clubs, and do homework.
This is the vision most people have when they think about the average student.
However , there are also students that do not fit this mold. Some are kicked out of school, some have severe mental illnesses, and others have learning disabilities. Sometimes these differences lead to kids having to go to a different school.
These schools are often referred to as alternative schools. They are often looked at as weird or where the crazy kids go. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
How do I know all this? I went to an alternative school for a while. The one I attended was a little different from ones for the ones with negative behaviors. For me, the school was also considered a treatment center. All of us had severe mental illnesses or learning disabilities. Many of us had come there after a psychiatric hospitalizations. Some came straight from their home school.
It was decided that I would go to an alternative school after I got out of residential treatment. We had to visit the schools to see if it was the right fit. The first one we visited was terrible, Their idea of helping us was to put every student, no matter the age, in the same room. Their way to train us for jobs? Make the student fold pizza boxes and cleaning the gym equipment at the local YMCA. The worst thing? They had “quiet” rooms that they would lock you in. I saw the doors to the room, and heard banging and screaming. They had no interview process that would give them an idea of who I was and who I needed. They were going to accept me that day, without knowing me at all. I immediately decided that the school was not only awful for me, but a very negative environment for any student.
That whole experience made it tough for me to check out the other available school. I went there with my parents and my case manager. We sat down at the table with the director of the school and a teacher’s aid. We discussed what the school was like and what would help me best. They asked if we had any question. It felt so good to actually be listened to. They told us they would call if I got accepted.
When we got the phone call telling me I was accepted, I was actually excited to go. They had so many good things about them.
One thing about the school was that it was 45 minutes from my house. I was lucky because my public school system provided me a driver and a county car. I rode with one of the elementary school students, who was super sweet and funny. There was never a boring car ride, whether it be him or the driver talking. We listened to NPR on our trip to the school. I actually got to enjoy listening to it.
At school, we would have each core class where we would work on things on our level. We also had gym class, where we would either go to a local park or to a nearby school’s gym. It was fun to get to go outside and practice tennis or swing on the swings. Life skills class was either working on our emotions or quilting. We even got a grant from BAMA Works, which is Dave Matthews charity. Our goal was to make as many quilts as we could to be able to give them to firefighters who hand them out to kids affected by home fires. We learned to measure fabric, sew, and iron,
We also got a therapist to talk to. There were 3 different ones, but I got the newest one. She helped me so much. When I had a rough day at school, she would take walks with me, or let me get it out whether it be by talking, writing, or crying. She stuck by me and never let me go home in tears.
One thing that made me comfortable at the schools is that the quiet room is really a quiet room. It didn’t have a door, and the staff would never restrain a student unless the student was harmful to their self or others. We also had weekly meetings to address our concerns and announce the people who earned a new level.
The level system was determined by how many points we earned that week. Points were awarded when your teacher and parents filled out your point form and turned it in. We also had a school store in which each shelf was for different levels. You’d get to choose your “purchase” based on which level you were on. I was on level 3 almost the whole time, as I did all my work and did what I was told.
My favorite parts of the whole program was horse therapy and summer school. We got to go to a horse therapy program where we learned how to take care of horses and how to ride them. I love horses, so it made me feel happy. I still have my ribbon from completing the program in my bedroom. I don’t wear the tee shirt often, because while I am pretty open, I don’t want strangers knowing I took horse therapy.
I know what you’re thinking. Summer school?!?!YUCK!! The thing is, it wasn’t yucky at all. We had different activities each day. Each day started with handwriting exercise. One day of the week we would go to the movies. Other days we went to the park. My favorite days were field trip Friday. We went to super cool places. Quilt museum (sounds boring, but actually was not), bowling, an art exhibit, and more. My absolute best day was going to an indoor/outdoor water park.
Alternative schools might sound scary, but they are not, If you choose the right one, you will get a lot out of it. I learned how to handle my emotions better, how to work with others, and how it was to be with other people who were struggling outside of the hospital. Sure, there were rough patches. I also felt like I needed a challenge that the school could not provide. I tried some online classes, but hated them. I eventually moved back to my public high school. At times, I wished I had stayed. It was so much easier for me to be in a group of eight people than a group of 750+ people I didn’t really like except for a few. If you are going to enter an alternative school, don’t fret. It isn’t what not what society says it is. Find the right fit for you. Ask questions. Don’t go for the first one you find. Make sure they do an interview with you, so you can learn more while they learn about you. It’s okay to be picky. You deserve the best care and schooling you can get. Take care of yourself. You are number one commander of your treatment.