Facility Planning: Finding Alternatives

Alternative programs attempt to meet the needs of at-risk students, children with a high probability of failing in traditional school environments because of a combination of factors: family environment, socioeconomic status, health, or behavioral or emotional problems.

The number of students using Alternative Learning Centers (ALCs) has increased dramatically in the last 15 years. In 2001, 39 percent of U.S. school districts provided at least one program for at-risk students; of the 10,900 programs, 59 percent were housed in separate facilities. Twelve percent were special-education students with individualized education programs, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

One of the forces driving the behavior of at-risk students is peer pressure and how that peer pressure affects their self-image.

The nontraditional settings allow a variety of curriculum approaches. Classes are small, project-based and usually dependent on technology. Differing teaching styles are accommodated in adaptable spaces. An example:

  • A 775-square-foot family and consumer life-sciences lab that doubles as the preparation kitchen for three separate lunchrooms serving middle and high school students and staff.

  • A 600-square-foot science lab that is equipped to teach all sciences.

  • A small “gym” with no locker rooms to accommodate light physical-education activities.

  • Classrooms from 100 to 600 square feet with a student-teacher ratio from 1:1 to 15:1.

  • No media center or library, but technology-oriented learning.

  • A nursery for infants and toddlers of teen parents who are striving to complete their high school education and learn parenting skills.

    Another institution, in addition to the typical secondary-education curriculum in five high schools and seven middle schools, offers these programs:

  • Four “storefront” ALCs in shopping malls, each accommodating about 60 students in grades 11 and 12.

  • One ALC in a converted city hall.

  • A program for students with emotional and behavioral needs in a converted telephone building.

  • A remodeled office building for students ages 18 to 21 who want to finish high school.

  • A technical ALC where students explore careers, take courses, and earn high school and college credit. It has 70 full-time and 600 part-time students; its long-range goal is 250 full-time and 1,000 part-time students.

  • A renovated commercial/industrial building housing a program for pregnant teens in grades 8 to 12. It is equipped with licensed childcare services so that teen mothers can return to school.

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].

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