What are Alternative High Schools?

Kathy Hawkins

Alternative high schools are private institutes for secondary education, and they are generally more flexible and progressive than traditional public schools. These high schools are generally designed for students with special needs, whether the student has developmental disabilities or behavioral problems. For many students who have been unable to succeed in a traditional high school environment, this educational alternative may provide the best solution to their problems.

Alternative high schools are designed to be more flexible and progressive than traditional high schools.
Alternative high schools are designed to be more flexible and progressive than traditional high schools.

Some alternative high schools are in traditional school buildings, though most are very small. Many are in buildings once used for another purpose, such as a church. Other schools are boarding schools, and they may be located in remote and rural environments. Some programs are designed to incorporate a travel element along with academic studies, and include camping and wilderness expeditions.

This type of school can be a good solution for students who need more personalized attention from teachers than in a regular school environment, particularly students with learning disabilities. The teacher-to-student ratio is generally quite high — usually around 5 or 6 students to each teacher. In such programs, students are often able to have greater input into what they learn about, so that their studies are geared towards their interests. In some schools, however, there is a danger that the course work is too lightweight, and that the students will fall far behind their counterparts at traditional high schools.

Alternative high schools can also be good for creative students who need more outlets for self-expression than those available at traditional schools. Students are typically treated with respect, and as equals to their teachers. They are given opportunities to speak their minds and to engage actively with their environment. Depending on the school, the environment may be able to provide a wonderful, progressive atmosphere for students.

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