Woodland working to give students alternative

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Administrators at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls are working to establish an alternative education program for the 2013-14 school year. –FILE PHOTO

BEACON FALLS — If a student at Woodland Regional High School is having trouble succeeding in the larger, traditional high school setting, the only recourse currently available for school administrators is to keep that student at home and pay for private tutoring.

“One of the needs we have in this district, we’re not alone in that need … is to have an effective alternative education program,” Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James said.

To satisfy that need, Woodland Principal Arnold Frank and Assistant Principal Dana Mulligan have been working with James to develop an alternative education program at the school for students who are struggling.

“I believe our obligation is to give them a program to help them be successful,” James said.

Mulligan, who administered an alternative education program at Hamden High School prior to coming to Woodland, has taken the lead on the project. She presented a preliminary plan for the program to the Board of Education during its Aug. 15 meeting.

The plan calls for an after school program from 2:15 to 5:30 p.m. at Woodland. Students will earn credits in the four major disciplines — English, math, science, and social studies as well as receive counseling.

Mulligan told the board holding the program after school would be the best fit. She said the distractions during the regular school day that may cause the students anxiety or to act up won’t be present after school.

An after school program would also be more cost effective, Mulligan added, since full-time teachers would need to be hired if it were run during the school day.

As for staffing the after school program, the staff would be hired at an hourly-rate. Four teachers would be needed to teach the four major disciplines. A special education teacher — since its expected some of the students would be labeled as special education —   social worker, and guidance counselor would also be needed.

Arnold said the program is not just about academics. He said having a counselor and social worker will help the students learn about the mistakes they made that put them in the position they’re in.

An administrator would be paid a $10,000 stipend to oversee the program, under Mulligan’s proposal. The total staffing cost is estimated at $60,880 a year.

On top of the staffing costs, transportation is estimated to cost $37,500 a year, although Mulligan said it’s likely this cost will be less.

In the past, Arnold explained Woodland would send students to other school districts for alternative education but those programs aren’t taking out-of-district students anymore.

“We use homebound as an alternative education program,” Arnold said.

The cost of tutoring between five and nine homebound students — the number fluctuated — from January to June was about $39,000, according to Mulligan.

Although the program will run after school, students would not be left up to their own devices during the day. Instead, students will work at jobs set up by the school system and earn credit for the work.

Ideally, Mulligan said, she’d like to see students trained in a vocation. Those students who are too young to legally work will be set up with internships or community service assignments.

Mulligan said the district still has to reach out to the community to find businesses to partner with for the vocational piece of the program.

Ultimately, the goal of the alternative education program is to give students confidence and the necessary skills to handle themselves in a traditional classroom.

“We don’t want students to be in the alternative program for four years,” Mulligan said.

At Bethel High School, the alternative education program, which goes by the name of the T.A.S.K. (Teamwork, Achieve, Success and Knowledge) Program, has been up and running since 2009.

“We’re now getting kids that want to come to the program,” said Fran Peters, a transition specialist and coordinator of the T.A.S.K. Program.

The program at Bethel High differs from what is envisioned for Woodland. Students attend the program during the school day until 12 p.m. After noon, they work on credit recovery with tutors, Peters explained.

Along with teaching high school course, Peters said, she also works with the students on their “soft skills,” like interacting with people. The program also places students into internships and has a community service component, which includes working with the Housatonic Habitat for Humanity, she explained.

While the program differs in its execution the goal remains the same as what is wanted at Woodland — helping all students to be successful.

“Here they are finding success and graduating with a high school diploma,” said Peters about T.A.S.K.

While students at Bethel High work to recover credits through tutoring, Mulligan is eyeing a more digital approach.

Mulligan’s plan includes buying five licenses of ODYSSEYWARE, software that offers dozens of core and elective courses available to be taken online. Each license costs $700 and the courses offered can be tailored to a specific curriculum.

The software will not be used just for alternative education.

Electives offered by ODYSSEYWARE are planned to be used to compliment the alternative education program. The software will also be used as a credit recovery tool to help regular education students graduate on time.

“What it eliminates for a lot districts is those fifth-year seniors,” Mulligan said.

Arnold said the school sees instances where students are half a credit or one credit short of graduating and must return for a fifth year of high school to make it up. ODYSSEYWARE would allow students to make up the needed credit or credits and graduate on time.

“This is a perfect way for those kids over the course of the summer or in the spring of their senior year to recover their credits and graduate in June or September,” Arnold said.

Students would be assigned times during or after school to take the online courses, which would be overseen by teachers, Mulligan explained.

Down the road, Mulligan said, it’s possible to make the software available for Beacon Falls and Prospect residents to use as adult education courses or for students from other school districts to make up credits for a fee.

The overall vision was whole-heartedly supported by the board.

“For more and more kids the traditional high school is not for them. … If we don’t think outside the box we’re going to lose more kids down the road,” board member Robert Hiscox said.

The district is aiming to have ODYSSEYWARE up and running in time for the second semester in January. As for the after school alternative program, the target date is the start of school in 2013.