Should Your Teen Consider an Alternative High School?

Education is Important, But Not All Teens Can Learn in a Traditional School

Alternative high schools help teens get their diplomas.
Getty Images/Blend Images - Hill Street Studios/Matthew Palmer

There are many alternatives to the normal public school setting. These alternative schools are designed to give students a chance to excel when the normal high school classroom isn't the best fit.

There are many reasons why parents and students may consider an alternative school. Troubled teens, teenage parents, and students with social or academic problems may benefit from a different environment and teaching style.

Likewise, gifted children may also do better in an alternative program.

Traditional High School is Not For Everyone

Education is vitally important to your teens' future. But, not all teens perform well in the traditional public school setting. Teens who struggle to fit in or perform well are at high risk for dropping out. 

The good news is, there are numerous alternatives to the traditional high school. Teens who perform poorly in a traditional academic program often do much better in an alternative high school.

Alternative schools are not confined to those designed to help troubled teens. This term is also used to describe magnet, charter and online schools. These may appeal to gifted teens or those with a specific and deep interest in a subject like music or science.

Who Should Consider an Alternative High School?

One of the first questions that parents ask is, "Is an alternative high school right for my teen?

" This can be a difficult decision and one that should be discussed with the school's administration and counselors.

Alternative high schools are available to any teen who isn't succeeding in their current academic setting. This includes students who:

  • have poor grades
  • are behind in academic credits
  • refuse to attend school
  • have a learning style that doesn’t match what is being taught
  • are frequently engage in conflict with teachers
  • have been kicked out or suspended from school
  • are unable to attend due to illness 
  • require individual attention
  • experience social difficulties in the school setting
  • have a learning disability
  • are pregnant or parenting
  • have dropped out or plan to drop out of school
  • have a special talent or interest not offered in public school

What Does an Alternative High School Offer?

Alternative high schools offer an array of options for earning a high school diploma that are very different from the public school model. 

Since these schools are designed to teach students at risk of failing, they provide more support and attention:

  • Classes are smaller.
  • Instruction is individualized.
  • Schedules are more flexible.

In addition to academics, the social and emotional needs of each student are addressed. This can make a significant difference for troubled teens.

Some alternative schools offer unique opportunities,  such as subjects not offered in traditional schools, internships in the community or high-level vocational training.

Others offer online classes or schedules that split normal classroom time with virtual classes.

Examples of Teens Who May Excel in Alternative School

Here are a few examples of how an alternative education could help certain teens:

  • A teen with an anxiety disorder may benefit from a smaller class and a more flexible schedule.
  • A teen who has a serious health problem may be able to continue his education online at his own pace.
  • A teen who struggles to learn through traditional teaching may excel when he's given hands-on instruction.

If your teen had difficulty with traditional school, it's important for him to know that his struggles don't make him 'stupid' or a 'failure.' Instead, public education is designed to fit the needs of most learners. But, he may simply have a different learning style or different needs. And your job is to help match his needs to the best education option. 

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