District plans for new alternative high school program

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Caroline Cioffi, Reporter
@cciofficourant

Most students have never experienced anything other than the 7-hour school day they are familiar with. Their time is divided into 48-minute periods and they hurry from class to class at the sound of a bell. Once they leave class, students are met with the noisy commotion of a hallway filled with high-schoolers. For many, this type of atmosphere can be extremely stressful and is not conducive to learning. That is where the new Alternative High School Program comes into play.

According to Business Insider, roughly half a million students attended alternative school programs across the United States in 2014. The registration rates for these programs have been rising steadily over the past 15 years. Currently, there is an Afternoon Instructional Program in place in New Canaan that serves students with a wide variety of needs. Evan Remley, the English Department Chair and Director of the Afternoon Instructional Program, emphasized the diversity of the group of students who attend these types of programs. “We get students from different places,” Mr. Remley said. “They may have moved into the district as seniors or they may have missed a year of school due to a variety of issues. It’s very diverse in terms of the types of students we have.”

The back lot of the Outback Center, which was considered for the new alternative school. Photo by Matthew Pelli

According to Bryan Luizzi, the Superintendent of New Canaan Public Schools, the mission of the program is “to help and support students who, for whatever reason, may have been struggling in school.” However, Dr. Luizzi believes that there is room for the program to improve. “It was a good model for a long time,” he said. “But, it really didn’t have enough of a clinical and therapeutic component to it that meets the needs of some of the students  we have.”

Recognizing the opportunity, Dr. Luizzi, along with a group of NCPS faculty members began to plan the new Alternative High School Program. Similarly to the Afternoon Instructional Program, this program would only be made up of 8 to 12 students. Mr. Remley described the importance of the smaller nature of the program. “The smaller cohort is huge,” Mr. Remley said. “It’s easier to build friendships and there’s less of the social scrutiny you get in a large group,” Mr. Remley said. “It also gives students more one-on-one time their teachers.”

Furthermore, the new Alternative High School Program will prioritize vocational-based education. “The program provides flexibility for travel outside of wherever the location is for the program,” Dr. Luizzi
said. “Because of that flexibility with scheduling, students can visit job sites, go on different field trips, and see things that are happening in authentic places.”

The district staff considered the Outback as a potential location for the new Alternative High School Program. Photo by Matthew Pelli

When asked about the additional benefits of the program, Dr. Luizzi explained that the program effectively limits the number of students who need to go to other towns to be educated. “First and foremost,” Dr. Luizzi said, “I believe that students who live in New Canaan should be, whenever possible, educated in New Canaan. There is a value and an importance of being educated in your hometown where you are a neighbor, a friend, a peer and a colleague to those around you and that is our motivating factor.”

Initially, Dr. Luizzi hoped that the new Alternative High School Program could be located at the Outback in downtown New Canaan. “We went to town and asked the town if we could start using the Outback facility to host our program,” Dr. Luizzi said. The town, however, decided that, for a variety of reasons, the Outback was not a suitable location for the new Alternative High School Program. The NCPS staff is continuing to explore other options for the program’s location. “There may be a possibility of something in the Nature Center,” Dr. Luizzi said. “It doesn’t have to be a very large space but it should be separate from the high school so that the program develops its own identity.”

 

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