Alternative Schools

When parents have teenager who is struggling in public school they may look for alternative schools. This article discusses some of the teen help alternative school options for troubled teens such as homeschools, charter schools, military schools, boarding schools, private schools, and more...

When people hear the term alternative schools, they may think only of schools for students at risk. In truth, alternative schools are any school organization that is not the standard, which is held to be the “normal” public school and private schools with a similar, college preparatory curriculum. This article surveys the concept of alternative schools.

Alternative Schools for Students at Risk

“Alternative schools for students at risk” is certainly one category of alternative school. It includes schools that focus on the needs of students with learning disabilities and students with emotional/behavioral disabilities, as well as students facing other kinds of difficulties . This type of school may appear in several guises. It may simply be an alternative public school. It may be a charter school. It may be a specialized private or independent school. Or it could be part of a chain of schools offering a proprietary curriculum or treatment program.

If you are seeking an alternative school of this type, one useful research is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices. The search page is here:

Other Types of Alternative School

The National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools (NCACS) membership may help define other types of schools that should be considered alternative schools.

  • Home schools and home school cooperatives
  • Private (independent) alternative schools
  • Public and charter schools offering alternative programs
  • Alternative institutions of higher education
  • Experience-based and adventure-based education programs

Alternative schools, therefore, include the following:

Pedagogy-Based: These are groups of schools, with or without an organizational connection, that share a common curriculum based on a pedagogical approach and/or methodology. They include Montessori, Steiner or Waldorf, Sudbury, Summerhill, etc.

Military-Focused: These are schools that most often use a JROTC or an ROTC program to prepare students either in leadership and academics or explicitly for military careers. They include the United States Military Academy at West Point, Fishburne Military School, Culver Academies, and TMI - The Episcopal School of Texas, which - as its name suggests - offers faith-based college-preparatory curriculum in a military school setting.

Sectarian: These are schools in which the curriculum is explicitly tied to a faith and offered in the light of that faith. Often students of other faiths may be accepted into the student body. Such schools are run by Friends (Quakers), Roman Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Baptist, etc. There are also schools that are more broadly “Christian” or “Bible-based,” without a specified denomination.

Sports-Oriented: These are schools that allow students to pursue training in a sport, sometimes at a very high level, without losing sight of academic goals. This is something different than simply playing a varsity sport: the school’s mission and purpose, in these cases, revolves around the sport, whatever it is. Examples include:

Burke Mountain Academy (Skiing) Vermont

University Charter School, National Elite Gymnastics, Texas

Andrews Osborne Academy (Equestrian Sports), Ohio

Language-Focused: These are schools in which a language besides English is not simply offered but has become a central or core element of the curriculum, possibly being treated as a second language and being used for instruction of other subjects

The Odyssey Charter School (Classical Greek is taught as a second language and used for instruction) Delaware

The Washington Latin Public Charter School (Classical Education), Washington, D.C.

Audubon Charter School/L’Ecole Franco-Americaine (Bilingual English/French) Louisiana - this is the only public elementary school “accredited by the French Ministry of National Education in first through fifth grades.”

Tarek Ibn Ziyad Academy Blaine Charter School:  (Arabic) Minnesota

Arts-Centered: These are schools in which arts has left the category of electives and has become the center-piece of the curriculum.

St. Thomas Choir School, New York

Idyllwild Arts Academy, California

Vocational: These are schools that have the future vocation of students firmly in mind as they pursue their final years of secondary schooling.

High School of Fashion Industries, New York

Davis Aerospace Technical High School, Michigan

Virtual: These are schools that students can access from anywhere, as long as they are enrolled, to complete their work independently.

Choosing an Alternative School

Whichever type of alternative school you may consider, make sure you check its accreditation, the qualifications of its teachers, the outcomes from its recent graduates, and its appropriateness for your particular child.


Related Article: Behavior Modification Schools >>