Students raise concerns about alternative program

BEACON FALLS — Some students at Woodland Regional High School have expressed concerns over an alternative education program that will begin at the school in January.

“Students are concerned that running this program will take away from their time after school with teachers and that it can cause a safety issue after school,” Makenzie White, a Woodland student representative to the Region 16 Board of Education, told the school board during her report at the Nov. 14 meeting.

White and fellow Woodland student representative to the board Mary Buckley explained to the board that some students raised the concerns during a recent student council meeting. White and Buckley said they were asked to relay the message to the board to see if the concerns can be addressed.

The alternative program is for students who are having trouble in a traditional high school setting. The program will take place after school from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. and students will receive instruction as well as counseling during the program.

The afterschool program is the first phase of the program. The board is also looking to place the students in a job or internship during the day before going to the program beginning in the 2013 school year.

The program is one school officials have sought for a longtime and will be the first onsite alternative program within the district. In the past, Woodland would send students to alternative programs in surrounding districts. However, those districts stopped accepting out-of-district students into their programs.

Currently, students who would be placed in the program receive 10 hours of tutoring a week at home with the district paying for the costs. There are 10 students who would be in the program starting in January, according to school officials.

Last week’s board meeting was the first time that school officials heard of any concerns from students over the program, which was first proposed to the board in August.

Superintendent of Schools Tim James and Woodland Principal Arnold Frank both emphasized the students who will be in the program aren’t in it for safety reasons, but rather because they struggle in a traditional high school classroom.

“The goal of the program is to help kids who are having difficulties in class keep up with credits,” said Frank, who was not at the meeting and heard of the concerns the following day.

Frank said he has no concerns at all about safety in regards to the program, but was concerned that the students did not come to him first before going to the board.

As far as the concern over taking time away after school with teachers for regular education students, James said after school is not the only time students can meet with teachers. He added that the same logic would apply to teachers who coach or are advisors to clubs, but no issues have arisen regarding these cases.

Frank echoed James’ sentiments.

James said officials don’t want students to feel unsafe and is confident the concerns can be eased. He felt the program just needs to be better explained to students.

Frank said he has spoken with the student government advisor and is planning to meet with the student council after Thanksgiving.

“We are very excited about this program as an opportunity to help kids earn credits and graduate,” Frank said.

During the meeting, school board Chair Priscilla Cretella told White and Buckley the program is one the board feels is very important and has a lot of value. She said the board wants to be transparent and doesn’t want to force the program on anyone.

Cretella felt an open discussion will be good to have with students. She said there maybe some points from the students’ perspective the board hasn’t considered and the board wants students to welcome the program.

“We especially want the students at this school to understand it and embrace it,” Cretella said.