Alternative program growing into its own

Special Education teacher Ilyce Cronk helps a Woodland Regional High School student on a math assignment during an alternative education program last January at Woodland High School in Beacon Falls. –RA ARCHIVE

Special Education teacher Ilyce Cronk helps a Woodland Regional High School student on a math assignment during an alternative education program last January at Woodland High School in Beacon Falls. –RA ARCHIVE

BEACON FALLS — At this time last year, Woodland Regional High School was getting ready to roll out its first onsite alterative education program. The program, which is for students who struggle in a traditional classroom setting, has not disappointed.

“The program has really met the early goals we had for it,” Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James said.

James said the students are encouraged and district officials are proud of the program.

“We’re very, very pleased, and I think the students are pleased, and the students’ parents are pleased with how things are going,” James said.

Until last year, Woodland, which serves students from Beacon Falls and Prospect, never had an onsite alternative program. Woodland students used to be sent to alternative programs in nearby districts. However, those districts stopped accepting out-of-district students into their programs. The only option left for Region 16 was to home tutor students 10 hours a week. That was until Jan. 24, 2013 when the first class of the alternative program was held.

Eleven students, a mix of juniors and seniors, took part in the first semester of the program. Woodland Dean of Students Ben Palladino, the program administrator, said three seniors were able to graduate last year due to the program.

“It gives them hope,” Palladino said of the program, “and it shows them that they can be successful.”

This year there are 15 students in the program, including eight seniors, Palladino said.

“We have kids that want to be a part of the program,” said Palladino, who added that discipline referrals at Woodland have declined since the start of the program.

The program runs from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and uses two classrooms and a computer lab. It costs roughly $70,000 a semester. About half of the cost is for transportation. The remaining costs are for the staff — two teachers, three special education teachers, two counselors, and an administrator — and licenses for ODYSSEYWARE.

ODYSSEYWARE is educational software that offers core and elective courses online. The software is used to supplement direct instruction in the program and can be individualized for students.

Palladino described the online curriculum as “rigorous.”

“The kids are not skirting their responsibilities academically,” he said.

Palladino said Woodland is looking to expand the use of ODYSSEYWARE for all students. He said last summer two seniors, who weren’t part of the alternative program, took courses using ODYSSEYWARE to help them graduate. The courses the students needed weren’t available during summer school, he said.  

The classes are just the first part of the program. Officials are looking to roll out the second phase — placing students in a job or internship during the day before attending class — early this year.

Palladino said one student was placed in a job last semester as a pilot program. He said the experience went well. Christopher Albini, a counselor at Woodland, is working to set up more work placements, Palladino said.

The Woodland program is at a bit of a disadvantage, Palladino said, as other similar alternative programs provide transportation to and from work placements. 

As the program continues to grow, Palladino is pleased with the results thus far. He attributed the program’s success to the desire of the students to be in the program, the support of the Board of Education and the work of the staff.

“They (the staff) do a fantastic job of helping the students learn and also allowing the kids to go through growing pains in the program,” Palladino said.

Palladino said his long-term goal for the program is for it to be an independent one with its own building and staff. It’s a vision shared by the school board, which has expressed a desire to convert the annex at Algonquin School in Prospect into the site of the program after the new elementary school in Prospect opens.

For now, building on what the program has achieved so far is the plan.

“We’re looking to just continue building on the success of the program,” Palladino said.

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