Unconventional school program helps teens thrive at school and learn at their own pace
San Diego Union Tribune
by Gary Warth
12:01 a.m. Feb. 20, 2013
Students who prefer to do their lessons online, have been expelled from traditional school or are home recovering from an illness or injury now have an alternative in the Oceanside Unified School District.
The appropriately named Alternative Learning Center opened Jan. 28 in two classrooms at Ocean Shores High School to serve students who for various reasons do not fit in with a conventional program.
The center uses a curriculum that’s entirely on computers. Each weekday, students work three hours from home and two hours at the center, which is open from 1 to 5 p.m., after Ocean Shores students leave the campus.
So far about 30 students are enrolled, with room for about 30 more. Two teachers, including one assigned to the district’s home hospital for injured or ill students, are on staff.
Superintendent Larry Perondi said the idea behind the center’s creation was keeping expelled students connected to the district.
“Sometimes we have some youngsters … the worst thing we do for them is send them away,” Perondi said. “Then they get behind, and we haven’t helped the kid.”
Each expelled student will be considered individually before being allowed to attend the center. The school board has already approved enrollment for one expelled student, and two more are scheduled to be considered next month.
Oceanside Unified already offers an independent study program at three schools with a curriculum that uses computers as well as books. However, before the learning center opened, students who wanted to do all their work on computers had no option other than seeking out a charter school, said Ocean Shores Principal Barbara Higgins.
The learning center also works with a social service agency to address problems students and their families may be having outside of school,Higgins said.
OUSD trustees approved the program Jan. 15. At the meeting, Perondi said students should not have to leave the district to find educational alternatives, and he called the center a way of adding diversity that would better serve families.
Higgins and center Director Barry Tyler created the program after the two heard about a similar program in Riverside while attending a conference together.
“It isn’t just for struggling, at-risk kids,” Higgins said, adding that the curriculum will include honors courses and classes for advanced students.
Because the center is not tied to a regular semester schedule, students can join at any time and progress at their own pace, usually taking three weeks to complete a course.
On a recent afternoon, a handful of students at the center sat in front of a row of computers, studying side by side but working at their own pace.
Some said they were in the program because they prefer to work online. Others said they had anxiety at regular high school, and some students were recovering from lengthy illnesses and still were unable to attend a full day of school.
One boy, who asked that his name not be used, said he was there because he developed a stomach condition last year and was put on a home hospital program. He had been attending a charter school and joined the center when it opened, but hopes to return to Oceanside High next semester.
“I like this, but I miss the school,” he said.
Another student said she is at the center because she does better working independently and online rather than in a traditional classroom setting.
“I just wasn’t doing well in school, so my parents started looking for an alternative,” said Laci O’Brien, a sophomore who used to attend Oceanside High.
“They heard about this, and it seemed like a perfect fit,” she said about the center.
Laci said after one week in the center, she already feels her school work is improving, and she likes the one-on-one attention from her teacher.
Higgins said the center is taking a holistic approach to helping students, meaning teachers are sensitive to problems the youths and their families may be experiencing outside the classroom.
“We’re already partnering with Interfaith (Community Services) to provide services not only to the students, but also to the whole family,” Higgins said. “And that’s part of our process.”
One student at the center said she had anxiety and depression at her high school, but she feels more comfortable at the center because it is smaller.
At a work station a few feet away, another student said she also had depression at her old high school, but is more comfortable at the center.
“The environment at school is more intense,” she said. “Here, it’s more peaceful and relaxed. It helps me learn.”