Student Support Services

Alternative Education: Making a Difference



To increase student’s personal assets through a customized learning environment that is responsive to the unique needs of the students.


Alternative education programs have for decades provided students with an additional pathway to high school completion. The prevailing philosophy for these pathways is that a one-size approach often leaves some children behind because students are motivated differently and possess individual learning and thinking styles.

NYS public alternative education includes any nontraditional environment that provides a comprehensive elementary, middle or secondary curriculum. Mastery of learning standards and attainment of a high school diploma are achieved through a learner-centered program structure, multiple learning opportunities, frequent student performance review and feedback, and innovative use of community and school resources to support youth development.

Alternative education also includes programs operated by local school districts, Boards of Cooperative Education Studies (BOCES) and the Office of Children and Family Services that prepare students, under twenty-one years of age, to pass the General Educational Development Tests (GED) and receive a New York State High School Equivalency (HSE) Diploma.

Purpose of Alternative Education

NYS alternative learning environments provide options for students to enhance their achievement and fulfill their goals and ambitions. Students respond favorably to alternative structures that draw upon their particular skills, abilities and learning styles. Alternative environments often are on the cutting edge of innovative practices and are geared to assist all students in meeting high standards for academic performance.

Defining Characteristics of Alternative Education Programs

Visits to alternative education sites reveal the following features often exemplify a well-organized and successful alternative education learning environment

  • A user-friendly environment exists that is comfortable to the student.
  • Instructional methods and content have relevance to the student and complement their life experiences.
  • An asset driven model is used that builds on the strengths of students.
  • Programs and services support youth academic and personal development activities as well as academics.

Teaching and administrative staffs recognizes the potential of students and are committed to bringing out the best of each person.

Specific practices that distinguish the more successful and well-organized programs are:

  • A flexible education program allows comprehensive student development and serves the academic, social and personal needs of the learner.
  • The student/teacher ratio fosters a learner-centered school climate geared to individual ability.
  • Mastery of learning standards and completion of diploma requirements occurs because of innovative curricula and varied teaching methodologies that use external resources, experiential learning and technology.
  • Ongoing review and evaluation of performance by teachers, students, parents and the community result in continuous program improvement and distinction.
  • The school/program governance policy demonstrates democratic principles and empowerment to all and results in a clearly defined program with measurable goals and objectives developed in conjunction with students, staff and community members.
  • Participant involvement in all aspects of the educational process results in enhanced self-concept, desire for learning, and the development of critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills.
  • Recruitment strategies and professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators stress varied leadership, instruction and assessment techniques and result in a highly qualified teaching force and supportive and proactive leadership.
  • A working relationship is maintained with conventional schools/programs to create a collaborative environment that fosters the exchange of practices, strategies, and resources and the integration of optional alternative education approaches throughout the system.

Results to be Emphasized

  • Learning environments at the school and in the community will ensure that learners always know what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they can use the information.
  • Instructional content and curriculum will assist the student use academic knowledge and skills in an occupational context, and demonstrate the integration and application of academic and occupational skills in school, learning, work and personal settings.
  • Each learner will have a plan that drives services and activities and reflects the strengths, skills and talents of each learner. Learners have major responsibility for the development of their plans and continually assess, articulate and refine their educational and career goals.
  • The plan becomes the catalyst for post-school activity and is recognized by community partners as the primary driver of services.

Learners Will

  • Recognize individual learning styles to establish the foundation for life-long learning
  • Work with program staff to update the plans quarterly
  • Develop a resume/qualifications brief and deliver a 60 - second commercial that will "sell" the individual to prospective employers and others.
Last Updated: December 29, 2010