Spotlight: Alternative Schools

By Carla Amurao

The battle against the school-to-prison pipeline is facing an up-and-coming contender—alternative reform schools. Eager to help students shake the stigma of attending an “alternative” or a “continuation” school, these programs are quickly making their mark and a difference in the world of education and juvenile reform.

Alternative school programs provide pre-adjudicated and adjudicated students with a well-rounded education. These programs give students a chance to develop positive attitudes toward learning, which will enhance their chances for success when they return to their school and to the community.

In this feature, we will highlight some notable alternative programs that are frontrunners in this fight against the school-to-prison pipeline.

Spokane County’s Structured Alternative Confinement School

Spokane's SAC School, photo courtesy Larry Gardner, principal

Spokane County’s Juvenile Detention Center boasts its Structured Alternative Confinement (SAC) School, which has quickly become a trailblazer in enriching Washington youth since it opened its doors in the fall of 1995. The SAC School in Spokane, WA opens its classrooms to over 200 court ordered pre-adjudicated, probation, truant and at-risk youth. The staff wastes no time in grooming students for success, gaining confidence, self-direction and respect for their peers, as well as honing their skills in problem solving, decision-making, critical thinking and communication.

The path to individual enrichment is paved with individualized instruction. Students’ strengths and areas for improvement are pinpointed to set a road map with an ultimate goal of smoothly transitioning back to traditional schools and progress towards earning their high school diploma or GED at the end of their court sentence. Other major focuses include pre-vocational education and restorative justice.

Most importantly, the SAC School focuses on keeping students up to date with the curriculum of their current school. Their class hours are converted into school credits at their home school to avoid falling behind and possibly contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Classroom instruction is provided by two Washington State certified teachers and two Title One instructional assistants. The school component is staffed by three teachers, a paraeducator and an Education Advocate. Here is a look at the impact of the staff and the SAC School on two students, Kaitlyn and Natalia:

Following are works of poetry and video pieces from students who have attended Spokane’s SAC School. When given the chance to shed light on the realities of their lives and experiences, these students have demonstrated their talent and their artistic voices.

There Is No Stopping It
by Mandii

There is no stopping it.
The bullet rips through the hot summer haze
missing trees and dodging unexpected birds
coming to the body fate has chosen.
Finally, like a blast of fire blasting towards him,
it hits like thunder hitting a wall.
He stops.
He stares at me.
His hand reaches for me but falls as I take a step back.
But he grabs me tightly, and I feel his hands move down as
he falls to his knees.
Although my heart was racing so fast before, it comes to a
halt in my chest.
I see the brother I once knew as my hero, my Bubba, lying
still on the ground covered in blood.
But just as the tears began to fall I realize…
There is no stopping it.
The bullet has chosen the body of my big brother.
Yet again, it is another innocent body.
As I’m walking onto the plane, to a new life, I stop and look
at the one I’m leaving behind, and I
knew that there was nothing left for me but reminders of
the nightmare that will never go away.
But then again, everyday I still wonder what would have
happened if that bullet chose me.
There is no stopping it.


by Anonymous

Strolling down the dark, ominous street, sounds of children yelling and laughing is all I hear. All I see are big blowing up ghosts hanging in trees, cottony spider webs covering the buses, nearly rotted pumpkins sitting on porches, and bratty little kids running house-to-house. I think to myself, “Damn. I always get excited for Halloween, but it’s never as fun as it was when I was younger. I just don’t have the imagination or the creativity…”

I have a sort of envy, watching these kids run around and laugh, and just enjoy their night worrying about who gets the most candy or the best candy. And then there’s me and my dumbass. The only thing I’m worrying about is getting drunk or high, like I’m obligated or something. But the whole time I’m reminiscing on my childhood, when I enjoyed the candy and didn’t worry about anything else.

I used to be afraid of ghosts, and witches, and stuff like that. But now, I’m scared of getting hurt and worrying my parents while I’m doing idiotic stuff when I’m in that state of mind. But even worse, I’m slowly becoming addicted to the party life. This is the scariest Halloween ever.

The two writing pieces, “There Is No Stopping It” and “Halloween” were published in InRoads Issue 15 (2012), an open forum for the creative endeavors of participants in Writers in the Community.

Los Angeles County’s Challenger Memorial Youth Center

The Challenger Memorial Youth Center in Lancaster, CA has a goal that, at first glance, seems laced with a tinge of irony: they want the least amount of students coming through their doors. While Challenger strives to offer the best services possible, their overall emphasis is to reduce their population. Their specific and structured multimodal intervention approach serves as a model for shutting down the school-to-prison pipeline.

The program is housed within the Los Angeles County Probation Department, the only department in the nation that prides itself in providing a customized therapeutic plan for every student who needs their services. Students are assessed in terms of their health, mental health, education and criminal background.

To manage behavior and to minimize the risk of students committing new crimes upon their re-entry into the communities, the program builds on an individual’s strengths rather than focuses on faults. Using the Evidence-Based Therapeutic Approach, Challenger reinforces the actions they want to see from students. They are always working to promote change from within the students’ home environment by helping facilitate relationships with their family, between peers, in school and in the neighborhood. With that, students should have the tools they need to manage the triggers that lead to recidivism.

Christopher and his former DPO, Tanesha Lockhart

One of Challenger’s former students and one of the many success stories, Christopher, is featured in “Education Under Arrest.” In our web exclusive video, he describes what it was like to have a probation officer in the LACPD and how it’s changed his life. Noted for always having an eye for creativity, his probation officer tirelessly urged him to attend college and take up an artistic specialty to build on his strengths. Now a studio art major at the University of California, Irvine, Christopher has changed his life for the better, thanks to his own willpower and that of his probation officer, Tanesha Lockhart. Here are some samples of Christopher’s writings from his years in LACPD.

















Last modified: March 27, 2013 at 2:28 pm
Home | About | Schedule | Pledge | PBS Privacy Policy | Shop