The Dropout Report: Best practices
Leaders of Street School and Union Alternative School, two of the city’s model programs, provide their suggestions for encouraging students to stay in school.
Executive director, Street School
What are the reasons kids may want to attend Street School? Students regularly comment that they felt lost in the larger traditional schools they once attended. There appears to be a growing need for smaller, more personalized programs that can deliver full wrap-around services for youth. Street School provides just that. Moreover, we individualize instruction, we have studied the research about how youth best learn and put that research into practice, and we strive to meet the needs of each learner in our specially designed student-centered setting.
What tactics does Street School use that should be replicated in traditional schools? The staff is the key to our success … We strive to hire and retain a staff that not only understands and uses effective methods, but also a staff who have a passion for working with youth.
… Students are included in goal setting, visioning and other aspects of their learning environment. Youth have wonderful ideas, varied interests and they actually know what works best to meet their particular learning styles. All schools must strive to meet the needs of each learner; they must become student focused.
So many youth today find themselves dealing with adult responsibilities through no fault of their own. They are adolescents who have yet to develop the important skills needed to function as an adult, yet for so many that decision was already made for them. When youth find that they must function as the parent for younger siblings or must earn money to support their families or have no adult to provide basic necessities — school can surely take a back seat. We understand that at Street School and work as a team to provide a safety net for each student so that those cycles can be broken and so that every student has an opportunity for an education so that they can be contributing members of our community.
What does Street School do to prevent dropouts? We believe that each youth is unique and has the right to develop his or her potential to the fullest. Each student has the opportunity to prepare academically and socially in a manner that will increase self-worth. This school is dedicated to providing a positive atmosphere and successful learning experiences by building respect between students and adults. Fully realizing that the responsibility for change rests within each individual, Street School provides an environment that facilitates that change.
Principal, Union Alternative School
What tactics does Union Alternative High School and Junior High School use that should be replicated in traditional schools? We firmly believe in the effectiveness of our block scheduling. Students here spend most of the day with a single teacher studying a single subject for four weeks in our morning block. This system greatly simplifies the student’s studies by allowing him or her to focus in on one solid subject at a time without having to worry about having three different tests on the same day or having four different teachers giving homework on the same night … In the afternoons, we have several different options for how the students can acquire extra credits and get caught up with their graduating class. These include staying for elective classes at the Alternative School, attending afternoon classes in traditional school, participating in the work/study program or the community service program or enrolling in classes at Tulsa Technology Center or Union night school or summer school.
What makes Union Alternative different from other alternative programs? Every alternative school is uniquely designed to meet the specific needs of its patrons, and we have to remain flexible enough to change our design as our constituency evolves. We believe that a crucial element of our success is that participation in Union Alternative School is strictly voluntary, for both staff and students. We want students to understand that this school is giving them a chance to get off to a new start in a supportive environment, but that we can only help them if they want to be helped. Therefore, our student contract lays out a series of behaviors that are integral to academic success, and students must be willing to abide by this contract to retain their positions in the school. We do not accept suspended students into the Alternative School, and we keep no one here against his or her will. We also are blessed with a truly outstanding facility, which reflects the district’s commitment to developing and maintaining a program designed to help troubled students simply because it is the right thing to do.
What are your future goals for Union Alternative High School and Junior High School? Union Alternative School has long been recognized as an exemplary program, and we take seriously our responsibility to pass on the experience and techniques that we have found to be successful in working with at-risk youth … Our goal is to continue to evolve and to improve and never to be satisfied that we’ve accomplished all that we could reasonably be expected to do.