4 Great Alternatives to the Traditional High School

Distance Learning1

Do you know someone who is struggling with school? The rate of students who drop out of high school is incredible. And it's no joke either; the pressures that students face in and outside of school is enough to drive anyone mad. Teachers and parents alike believe that school is just as easy for kids today as it was for them back in the day. Believe me, I've only been out of high school for a little over a year now and I can't even claim to know what it's like anymore.

However, there is good news. The choices for alternative schooling is ever increasing. Things like the internet has made it easy for anyone to earn an education in the environment that suits them best. Here is a list of some options available to students today. Keep in mind this isn't comprehensive, it is merely a brief overview to help you get some ideas:

Correspondence Courses

A friend of mine did correspondence courses for the last three years of his schooling. He was having a hard time dealing with the pressures to do drugs and get involved in other things like that, and he and his parents decided this was best for him.

How it works: There are literally hundreds of programs out there, so it will be up to you as the parent along with your child to find the program that suits his/her needs best. Some correspondence has very little outside interaction, some require you to check in with a "learning coach" every now and then. Some even have you, the parent, act as the learning coach. What happens is, the student is sent textbooks and materials that he would normally go over in class. The student does the lessons, then completes a number of graded assignments, as well as tests and quizzes, and then these are sent back for grading. Again, grading depends on the institute.

Who it works best for: Students who want a flexible learning schedule, as well as are highly motivated to complete their education on their own. I was one of those students that loved the learning part of school but hated the "high school scene". So something like this would have been a great option for me. Some systems require you to turn in work on a weekly or monthly basis, but many of the programs I am familiar with give you a whole semester's worth of work and let you complete it as quickly or as slowly as you desire.

Who this won't work for: Students who have motivation problems. Unfortunately, this accounts for a grand majority of teenagers today. My personal experience with students who have done correspondence is they forget that they still have to do school. It's like working from home; you have all of this new freedom but forget that you still have to work.

Diploma available: High school diploma.

Cost: Again, depending on the program, it can be as simple as covering the expenses of the books and materials, to being a full blown tuition.

My overall suggestion: Correspondence would work well for teens who are currently working or have the circumstances that permit them to work, while at the same time allowing them to earn an education.

Online school

This is what my sister does. She started back in 8th grade because health reasons caused her to miss a lot of school. After hearing the readers digest version and experiencing how it works for her, I can offer both pros and cons to this approach.

How it works: Much like correspondence, the students are sent all of their textbooks and materials, including materials for science classes like beakers. However, there are two major differences. One is most of the work is done online. Most of the assignments are turned in through the programs website, as well as quizzes and even tests. The program my sister does actually allows her to work on assignments until she is comfortable with the material, and then she takes the quizzes to check her learning. All of her english, math, science, even PE classes are monitored through the schools program.

The second big difference, is that the online school is treated like an actual public school. Meaning attendance rules still apply. Also, each student has an actual physical teacher through whom they communicate. That means you will still have someone you can asks questions about assignments to, someone who will motivate you to keep going. However, much of the responsibility to make sure work is done rests with the parents and student. A huge plus to this option is there is no cost.

Who it works best for: Pretty much the student who wants the flexibility that correspondence can offer, with the motivation that an actual classroom setting can provide.

Who it won't work for: People who are completely computer illiterate, which they aren't too common amongst teenagers. Also, if you're a parent who has a hard time being involved in your students' life, it can be all too easy for their education to slip through the cracks.

Diploma available: Because it's recognized as a public school, your student will have a senior year and graduate with a diploma.

My overall suggestion: Online school is up there amongst my favorite options available to students. Some things to keep in mind: Some schools aren't actually accredited, meaning you can put in all the work but find out you won't be earning a diploma.

Online classes

This is very similar to online school, so I will just include a few notes. This differs in the sense that you still attend a brick and mortar school, however you can take a few classes over the internet. The advantages here are you can take 4 classes at the physical school, and 2 online. This frees up time during the day, and also makes a long school day more bearable. Another advantage is that usually the teacher who directs the online class is available right at the school you already attend. So finding help is no problem.

Another thing that might appeal to students, is you can still take a full course load and do an additional class or two online. Why do this? High school is all about the credits you earn. The more classes you take, the more credits you earn. From my experience, online classes require no more than an hour per day, which includes any classwork and homework. Compared to just an hour sitting in class, with no mention of homework, you are getting a good deal. With a little extra work now, you can make your senior year THAT much more enjoyable and easy.

Extra Curricular activities

I'm not sure how prevalent these are, but many areas let high school students take classes that will gear them specifically to a career rather than heading to college. They can be called skill sources or a whole slew of other names.

How it works: You attend another institute where you learn hands on skills, like automotive repair, computers, even some places nursing. The high school I attended actually let juniors and seniors go through a nursing program, coming out of it with CNA certifications and well on their way to LPN. You may have to pay some up front costs, but compared to a university or even a community college or vocational school, it's very small. Many school districts will cover most of the expenses because education, even though the fiscal policies of the state don't say so, is really a high priority to people.

You are still required to take the core classes at your high school, like math, english, science, etc. However, many of those can be challenged, if you can prove you have the skills, while the others can be accommodated for. This is not meant to replace high school, but rather compliment it.

Who it works for: People that know college isn't the right choice for them, but don't want to settle for a high school diploma. A friend of mine went through the local skill source program and came through it with A+ certification in both hardware and software. They even paid the testing fees for him. Those skills can definitely come in use in the job market.

Who it doesn't work for: People that don't want to do extra work. I hate to say it again, but extra curricular activities do not replace high school. If anything, they will add to your work load. However, the big selling point here is it gets you out of the regular high school environment, and lets you work in an area with a subject you are completely comfortable with. If you lack the motivation or time to complete the minimum classes, chances are this option is not for you.

Diploma available: Depending on the institute, you can get certifications for a wide variety of things. As I mentioned, many offer certifications in computers, automotive, electrical (which seems to be quite popular) and even nursing (even more popular). However, again I will reiterate, THIS DOES NOT REPLACE HIGH SCHOOL. You will not graduate this with a high school diploma.

My final thoughts: I really like the local skill source program here. It has taken some kids who were very near to throwing their lives away and giving them a great outlook for the future. I knew one hispanic fellow in high school who was in a gang, but he got into the automotive program at the local skill source and is now doing very well with his girlfriend and son.

Running/Head Start

At last we arrive to my personal favourite. Running start is the option I pursued in high school. What it is, is a program that allows high school students to take college classes, for both college and high school credit. All while paying your tuition for you. Sounds cool right? Believe me, it is.

How it works: Running/head start is open to high school juniors and seniors who have maintained a C average. There is usually some mandatory orientation to attend, where you will gather all the required information. After that, you will usually have to take a college entrance exam, like everyone else, and based on those results, all or most of the classes will be available to you. Some students end up failing the math portion, but all you have to do is take a smaller credit class equivalent to high school algebra and everything works out.

After you pass the entrance exam, you will be allowed to register for classes the following quarter. Most colleges that have this program have a dedicated adviser specifically for running start students. He or she will direct you through the process, but believe me it's really not hard. Just work closely with your high school counselor and running start adviser on picking classes that will satisfy your high school requirements, as well as get you on your way to an associates of arts and science (transfer degree), associates in business (transfer degree to more technical programs) or even an associates of technical science (essentially a vocational program).

Who this works for: Students who love learning and want to get a "running Start" (hence the name) on college. This approach works well if you have a difficult time with teachers or students, because the atmosphere is so much more relaxed and conducive to learning. Your class will be at least half full of people who are actually paying to be there, so they won't be slacking and making life difficult for you. The whole time I was there, I never once had the teacher stop class because some idiot was disrupting class.

Who this doesn't work for: If you're that student who likes to disrupt class, this option is not for you. Most professors won't give you second chances, they'll just flat out kick you out of the class. If they fall behind in their lecture because of you, they will have 20-30 people mad at them, as well as you. So just do us all a favor and don't take college classes if you have the maturity level of the average teenager.

Diploma available: I'm not sure about all institutions, but around this area, this is how it worked. Most college classes were 5 credit classes, based on this particular institutes system. The classes were for a quarter, about 2.5 months including some sort of break in between. Those same 5 credit classes were the equivalent of a FULL YEAR of one high school class. And a full time load was considered to be 15 credits. So in the span of 2.5 months, you can earn the equivalent of a full year of three classes. Too good to be true? How about this; also consider that you are taking half the amount of classes each quarter. Many running start students who just want to graduate high school early have no problem doing so.

On top of that, if you don't flunk your classes and you follow your advisers suggestions, you can also come out on top with an associates degree in some area the same time you're graduating high school. So while your high school classmates are heading off to college next fall to start all over, you will already have a 2 year head start. Depending upon how well your credits transfer, you will be a junior while everyone else is a freshman.

My overall suggestion: Running start is something any serious student should take into consideration. This option works well for students who excel school, those who don't like the regular high school setting, and just about anyone who can handle the work load. Most people will tell you the classes are harder, but I never found them to be hard. Here's a fun fact: My high school GPA is lower than my college GPA. Just do the work, go to the lectures, and you'll be fine. One last thing, as we all know, there are very real financial problems in the world today. Budget cuts hit education pretty hard. My second quarter at college, over 30% of the classes were cut. Now I hear rumors that states will stop funding altogether. So even though I highly recommend this option, keep in mind that the ever changing world scene could make it difficult.

This is a very BASIC overview of some of the alternative options available for education in most areas. I must admit my knowledge is a bit limited to the educational institutes in the state I reside, as well as the county and city limits. However, most of these ideas can be applied in many areas of the country as well. A friend of mine in Arizona did a program very similar to the one my sister is taking here in Washington.

Why consider this information? Because I have seen way too many good people go into high school and be torn apart by the environment. The "high school scene" isn't all it's cracked up to be. With a little research, you can find the education that suits you best.

-flagostomos (Article here)