Alternative School Challenges During the Pandemic

EdSource article featuring CCEA Plus members
From the President of CCEA Plus:

Just wanted to give a shout-out to our CCEA+ team for providing great insight into the challenges our students face along with alt. ed. schools during this time.

Here’s the link if you haven’t had a chance to read it:

  Alternative schools’ ‘relentless’ fight to keep track of students during pandemic | View article
Teachers working long hours to engage students most likely to drop out during campus closures


About the Feature

The EdSource article, written by Caroline Jones, features CCEA Plus members and schools, including Amistad Continuation High School and Principal David Gustafson. Quotes from the article are included below to showcase our members’ contributions. Please support Caroline’s article by reading it and commenting here!

CCEA Plus“The effort was relentless,” said David Gustafson, principal of the public school in Indio, near Palm Springs, that serves students who’ve been expelled or are at risk of dropping out of traditional schools. “Our staff was working seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day, to keep these kids connected to school.”

Our Board was also featured:

CCEA PlusAmistad High is typical of California’s 430 alternative schools in its commitment to keeping track of students during the pandemic — students who are at especially high risk of dropping out, said Gerardo Abrica, president of the California Continuation Education Association and a math teacher at an alternative school in Tulare County.

Although they serve a small portion of California’s 6 million K-12 students, alternative schools play a crucial role in educating students who might not otherwise graduate from high school. And as campus closures continue into the new school year, that role is heightened, Abrica said.

“As educators at alternative schools, we work with some of the most at-risk youth, and we want to make sure our kids are not forgotten or marginalized,” Abrica said. “Our drive and sense of duty to our kids is revealing itself during these extraordinary times… Our fear is without adequate support during this pandemic, we could see a large number of dropouts in the next few years.”

CCEA PlusJoe Antonelli, assistant principal at Orange Grove alternative school in Corona in Riverside County, said alternative schools are often a refuge for students facing myriad challenges, including abuse, trauma and poverty. Even more than at traditional schools, alternative schools are where students eat their meals, get mental health counseling, learn and plan their futures, he said. Essentially, it’s a place of stability and hope, he said.

“For a lot of our students, coming to school has been an escape from a stressful home environment,” Antonelli said. “But now they have no escape.”

At Antonelli’s school, staff has tried to check in every day with students during the pandemic. If a student doesn’t respond to texts, emails or phone calls, teachers will try to track down the student’s siblings or friends.

So far, the school has lost contact with about 20-25% of its students, Antonelli said. He expects that number to rise this fall, but anticipates an explosion in enrollment when campuses reopen as more students in traditional schools fall behind academically or have discipline problems related to trauma or stress.

“I find I don’t sleep very well,” he said. “I am really concerned about the well-being of the kids.”

And, our very own Jamie Alarcon and Daily Continuation High School:

CCEA PlusAt Daily continuation high school in Glendale, teacher Jamie Alarcon has tried hard to maintain the personal relationships she’d developed with students and their families before the pandemic. She has called every parent and regularly emails her 80 students and their families. When she realized some parents don’t know how to use email, she sent a video tutorial. She sends out class newsletters in English, Spanish and Armenian, a common language in her district just north of Los Angeles. And when the spring quarter started, and she had new students, she made a personal welcome video introducing herself.

“It’s a whatever-it-takes mindset,” Alarcon said. “We don’t see it as saving one student. We see it as helping an entire community, because when one of our students stays in school and graduates, it’s a win for the entire city.”

By the end of the 2019-20 school year, the dropout rate for Daily school was about what it’d be normally, around 7.5%, she said. And some students actually seemed to prefer online learning, because the school environment had been stressful for them.

She’s been gratified that so many students made the effort to finish the school year despite significant obstacles. But she’s not sure what to expect when school begins.

“Do I worry? I worry about my students all the time,” she said. “That’s something that hasn’t gone away.”

According to the article, about 133,000 students in California attended alternative schools in the Fall of 2019. The state hosts 430 alternative schools. CCEA Plus proudly promotes, supports and advocates alternative education for continuation schools and community day schools.

Want to join our efforts?  Become a member!

Article by Caroline Jones in EdSource, cited and quoted above.