Language Alternative Program
Students in the Language Alternative Program are functioning academically two to four years below grade level. They have primary difficulties with language skills, especially reading, comprehension, and writing. Most of the students have problems with receptive and expressive language, demonstrated by limited vocabulary knowledge and below average communication skills. Some receive speech and language therapy services.
Students in the Language Alternative Program often have social/emotional needs and goals which result from their language issues. Some may miss cues for social communication and are challenged by expressing themselves within their peer group. Some struggle with low self-esteem as they work to understand their learning needs and develop coping strategies for academic and social success. We use a supportive, cognitive behavioral approach to help students work toward goals in these socio-emotional areas.
Language Alternative Program students are usually mainstreamed into homerooms, science, social studies, combined arts, wellness, and sometimes math and English. Students sometimes take either science or social studies so that they can more capably manage the academic load. The program staff provides support in the regular classroom when necessary. This may take the form of pre- teaching or reinforcing classroom lessons, modifying class work or tests as appropriate, or serving as an assistant within the regular education classroom to help refocus the student, clarify directions, or help with work completion. Study periods, called Organization Skills, are used to work on homework for students‟ mainstream classes.
We generally teach reading comprehension and/or writing skills, as well as math, in small groups in the Language Alternative Program, using topics and themes similar to the grade level curriculum when possible. We adapt reading and writing assignments to meet the individualized goals for each student. We read paperbacks, poems, magazine articles, and plays and complete corresponding comprehension skill work. Word processing on the computer is used for writing assignments whenever possible. The Language Alternative Program is flexible, and some students have taken more classes than others. The team decides this on an individual basis. Students entering seventh grade do not usually take a world language. They use that time for separate reading and writing classes, or an extra organization skills period.
The Language Alternative Program staff coordinates the students' daily schedules, keeping in close contact with regular classroom teachers and parents regarding homework, class assignments, social emotional issues, and school difficulties. Close contact is also maintained with the school counselors who sometimes help in planning behavioral contracts to address social and emotional goals. There is frequent communication between home and LAP staff.
The Alternative Program
The Alternative Program provides an appropriate, supportive setting for about six to ten students with primarily emotional and behavioral needs who have found it difficult to adapt successfully to the mainstream program. Students have struggled with behavioral or interpersonal problems within the family as well as at school. They are often performing academically at a level substantially below their ability. Some have significant learning problems, which contribute to their difficulties with academics and relationships with peers and/or adults. All students in the Alternative Program are recommended to receive regular counseling services outside the school setting. Some also receive additional counseling support at school.
The Alternative Program tries to do three things. First, we attempt to establish a strong sense of community among students, staff, and parents: a sense of caring and belonging. Second, we try to enable students to gain a sense of their own competencies and discover that they have the responsibility and inherent power to make positive change. Third, we attempt to provide academic challenge and high expectations for students. We support each student in setting appropriate individual goals and making steady progress toward these goals.
The core components of the Alternative Program are a daily check-off sheet and points as well as a community meeting, which meets twice weekly dealing with issues which concern students: school activities, conflicts around rules, relationships with others, academic responsibilities, and current events. A student chairperson is selected to run each meeting based on achievement in meeting the program‟s guidelines described in the next paragraph.
During the meeting, students receive feedback from each other and from the teachers about their progress toward their individual goals and how well they are doing in following the structure and rules which guide the program. These guidelines are described in our working constitution, the Levels of Responsibility, which students use during the meeting to support clear and accurate feedback. Using this cognitive behavioral approach, students chart their progress each day by being placed on a given level, based on criteria contained in The Levels of Responsibility. An ongoing record of each student's level is visibly maintained on a large, yearlong graph on the classroom wall. In addition, a variety of rewards and privileges can be earned by attaining certain levels of behavior and points. These serve as incentives for students to strive for continued improvement.
In addition, students come to the classroom several times per week to prepare and organize themselves for the day. Students receive homework assistance, work on long-term assignments, and discuss relevant social/behavioral issues. When students need additional support in select subjects, teachers and teaching assistants within the Alternative Program classroom help refocus the student, explain directions, provide support for behavioral goals, or assist with work completion. The Alternative Program teacher maintains frequent contact with the regular classroom teachers, administrators, parents, and counselors/therapists regarding students' progress toward academic, social and behavioral goals. Close coordination between school and home helps us to maximize support and plan effectively on behalf of each student.