ETHS board lauds Alternative School for providing students a ‘safe space’


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

District 202 school board vice president Monique Parsons speaks at a meeting. Parsons said Monday night that ETHS’ Alternative School gives students the opportunity to make lasting connections with their teachers.

Syd Stone, Assistant City Editor

District 202 school board members heard updates Monday night during a board meeting about Evanston Township High School’s Alternative School, which was created for students who struggle with traditional education.

Taya Kinzie, ETHS associate principal of student services, delivered the report and update on the program, which began in 2015. The program has expanded beyond online classes to include in-person instruction with two full-time teachers.

By the end of the school year, 45 students are expected to graduate, and 53 students have graduated since 2015, she said.

Kinzie said the ALT School was created for students who struggle socially, emotionally or academically in a traditional school environment. She said the program does more for students than just getting them a diploma and recovering credits — it provides a supportive community.

ALT School was designed for students with chronic truancy, external stressors or a lack of past success in school, Kinzie said.

She said many students cite the social and emotional “safe space” that the ALT School provides as the basis for their success. For many students, Kinzie added, the ALT School is a “fresh start” that allows them to meet their goals while working at their own pace.

“One size does not fit all, and we recognize that,” Kinzie said.

One current student, for example, transitioned to the ALT School after four years of high school with only three credits, Kinzie said. She added that after two years at the ALT School, the student is set to graduate. Through the program, students may earn up to 12 credits each school year.

“‘I was struggling going from class to class in regular school, and in here I can focus on one class at a time,’” Kinzie said, quoting an ALT School student. “‘In here, there isn’t any drama, everyone laughs and jokes, but at the same time motivates each other to graduate.’”

Kinzie said the classes offered at ETHS are open to 24 students at a time, but students may also complete online courses for credit. She said the program offers instruction for both general and special education students.

In addition to classes that earn students credit, the ALT School provides instruction on post-secondary school options, like employment and college. Kinzie said students participate in an “exit interview” upon completion of the program to ensure they have improved their attendance records and reduced disciplinary infractions.

Board vice president Monique Parsons said the program gives students the opportunity to make lasting connections with their teachers.

“Relationships are key,” she said. “I know not every teacher can do this; it’s hard work, and I applaud (them) for that. I’m excited to see the evolution of the program.”

Parsons said she hopes program leaders can find a way for graduates to feel comfortable in new spaces that are “outside of their comfort zones.” She said this could be achieved through class field trips and guest speakers.

Board member Gretchen Livingston said she hopes some of the key aspects of the ALT School — like close communication between teachers and students — can be applied to the traditional ETHS curriculum.

During Monday’s meeting, the school board also approved the contracts for ceramic studio equipment and the yearbook.

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