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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education

Last modified: Monday, October 8, 2007

Other ways to a high school diploma

Panel discussion to focus on alternative education

Oct. 8, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- High school students already deal with academic and social stress. Consider the added mental and emotional pressure some students face with circumstances such as the death of a parent, an unplanned pregnancy or a serious psychological problem.

This is the reality for many students trying to earn a high school diploma. To help those students get through school, nearly 300 alternative schools are now operating in Indiana.

Some of the state's alternative education leaders will discuss the need for and challenges of such schools during a panel discussion on the Indiana University Bloomington campus this week. The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) at the IU School of Education will host a free, public discussion on Wednesday (Oct. 10) at 1:30 p.m. in the Dogwood Room of the Indiana Memorial Union.

Indiana law mandates alternative education programs have a small enrollment with a maximum teacher-student ratio of 1 to 15. The schedule is flexible, and the programs are designed to fit a student's learning style. Students are eligible if they are failing academically and intend to withdraw from school or have already withdrawn; must work to support a family; have become or soon will become a parent; or is determined as disruptive in the school environment.

One of the panelists says she fields calls about the Evansville school she oversees from across the nation.

"Everyone is turning to alternative education as the need arises with our students," said Elizabeth McGovern, principal at the School of Academic and Career Development, which began in 1988 as the Stanley Hall Enrichment Center.

McGovern's school has a rolling enrollment which can fluctuate between 160 to 170 students during a school year. Students attend in two shifts, either in the morning or afternoon, and may also take night classes. McGovern said students come to the school for a multitude of reasons when they aren't succeeding in a large school. At the Evansville school, where teachers function more like a "teacher as coach," the classes are smaller, and the students are self-motivated.

"The students are working independently at their studies," she said. "They are all quite focused, and they work at a self-paced mastery program which involves software and textbooks."

Another kind of alternative school is located in an unusual place, although maybe one familiar to youth -- the mall. Simon Youth Foundation, affiliated with Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, which owns and operates shopping centers nationwide, takes unused mall space and through contracts with local public school districts, creates alternative programs. The Simon Youth Foundation operates Education Resource Centers in eleven states, including five in Indiana.

Chris Chalker of the foundation, who will also be a panelist, said the mall environment is often helpful to students who can obtain employment in the mall or seek guidance from some who work there. "We're putting kids in vibrant environments," he said. "So it just helps with the (students') self-esteem, incredibly, and we have a lot of great things going on by using this avenue."

The other panelists for Wednesday's program are Ronald Barnes, associate professor in the IU School of Education; Molly Chamberlin, director of the Division of Educational Options at the Indiana Department of Education; and John Loflin, an alternative education consultant. They'll discuss various topics, including the need for alternative schools with the proliferation of charter and magnet schools; dispelling the myth of alternative school students as "throwaway kids;" and how the accountability movement is impacting the educational objectives of those schools.

For more information about the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy visit CEEP's web site at

Media Outlets: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at Look for the story headline under "Podcasts."

Chalker says the mall learning centers are providing a real chance for students in alternative education:

"It's not only cool that they're going to school a lot of times within a mall, with all the glitter and glow that comes with that, but a lot of times, alternative kids end up in what we would call retired buildings, a lot of times elementary school buildings that have been remodeled or have been retired as an elementary school and then made these alternative schools. We're putting kids in vibrant environments, per se. So it just helps with the self-esteem, incredibly, and we have a lot of great things going on by using this avenue."

Chalker says Simon Youth Foundation tries to take advantage of being in the retail environment:

"So what we're trying to do is to create these education resource centers that come with a variety of services wrapped around this, not to mention the things that I had just indicated with employment, mentoring possibilities, and that kind of thing. But the fact that there's a lot of adult role models and significant others within the confines and the scope of this program does a lot of neat things on behalf of at-risk kids."

McGovern points out the most visible difference between what you'd see in her school and most other public schools:

"The students are working independently at their studies, they are all quite focused, and they work at a self-paced mastery program which involves software and textbooks. The teacher then becomes more 'teacher as coach' for our students. So I think that would be the most striking difference you would see."

The need for alternative schools will only grow across the country, McGovern says:

"We need some schools that are going to be able to handle that and take that on. And that is why I think what you are going to see nationwide — and I'm seeing it, I mean, we get a lot of calls from a lot of other states about our school — everyone is turning to alternative education as the need arises with our students."