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Alternative Option Might Be The Wrong Path Out of School

Lydia Valentine

High school is the time that many consider the best of their lives. There are football games and homecomings and nights when the stars shine brighter than ever and everyone feels alive. However, high school is also made up of rumors and cliques that run through school, clogging the ideally smooth system.

Almost everyone in any school somehow fits into a clique, whether it be the jocks or the drama nerds or the smart kids. Some fit into more than one while others feel as though they don’t fit into any. Those kids are seen as the outcasts. They have always been separate from the rest of the school, whether it be because of backed up learning or problems with other students.

This separation starts early on and by the time high school rolls around an indestructible wall has been placed around them. These kids become the “troublemakers” that are sent to alternative education programs that do not necessarily give help for the better. Alternative education groups need reform because they are not as effective as they appear to be due to the separation of students from their classes. 

During a writing workshop this summer I had the chance to walk around Portland and talk with people about how high school influenced their lives, and many had similar answers. They agreed that the habits they made during that point stuck with them.

One woman said, “High school is very impressionable . . . you know there will always be a very important part of me that was made during high school.” High school is a time of making decisions and creating habits that will greatly affect future paths, and that is why this early separation of students is probably not the best choice for dealing some students. 

First off they are apart from the student body, and there is little variety in the people they are around every day. Second, often little productive work is done in some of these programs. I have witnessed what alternative grouping can do to an individual.

A few years back there was a kid with bright and hopeful eyes who arrived at our school a few days into the year. He walked in with an uneasy history that branded him as something different. As the school year went on he grew a reputation as being a bad kid, even though his behavior was no different from some others. That first branding and his uneasy past combined made him a target as someone who would cause trouble and would need to be removed from the social setting. As soon as that school year ended and the next began, he was placed with an alternative education group and it only went downhill. His appearances at school were less and less and rumors only grew about the trouble that surrounded him. By the end of that year most people had forgotten that he had ever been in our school.

It was so horrible to see the bright eyes of this once hopeful kid turned to stone and for him to start on the path of what he never wanted to be. It didn’t take long for people to forget about him, even the ones he was with every day. The program continued on like nothing had happened, that a boy wasn’t lost to the winds. There are both good and bad cases in these programs but watching from the outside it seems like only bad comes from it. 

There is something truly wrong with the way that these programs are set up and what the outcomes are. Alternative education programs were designed to motivate and educate disengaged students while at the same time being innovative and creative, but it seems that over time they have strayed far from their roots.

Lydia Valentine is a sophomore at Gorham High School. She produced this piece as part of the 2017 Raise Your Voice Workshop in Portland, sponsored by Maine Public and the Maine Writing Project.