New alternative education program prompts heated debate

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By Andrew Kelleher
Lansing Star staff writer

A major discussion point at Lansing Board of Education meetings is the alternative education program implemented in the fall of 2010, called AdvancePath. There have been many believers and just as many skeptics about the program. But, the big debate is whether it is really working and worth the five million dollars invested into it.

Picture from www.advancepath.com of an AdvancePath classroom

AdvancePath is a computer-driven course accompanied by small-group instruction. It is meant for students who are not on track to graduate with 45 credits along with those who have dropped out of high school. Also, to qualify for the program, a student must be able to graduate from AdvancePath, and therefore graduate from high school by age 20.

Before AdvancePath, the Lansing School Districts alternative education program was called Ed Options. Instead of being in the high schools, students would attend class at the Hill Center of Advanced Technology. Students were able to graduate from the program after earning only 32 credits. So, when the state of Michigan increased the requirements along with the fact that attendance was very low for Ed Options, the board of education saw the need for a change.

There are two very important differences between the two programs. First, and most importantly, AdvancePath is held at each of the three high schools; Eastern, J.W. Sexton and Everett. By having the program right on campus, the alternative education students still feel a part of the high school and participate in activities. Also, by having a 45-credit graduation requirement, instead of 32, the students are being held to the same standards as all other high school students.

So, when the students graduate, they will have the same diploma and the same set of skills as any other high school student in Lansing. The only difference is instead of learning in a traditional classroom setting, their classes are done on the computer.

Sergio Keck, the executive director of specialized programs for the Lansing School District, said while presenting to the board of education about AdvancePath, “the three most important components that we have learned from this new program are attendance, attendance, attendance.” Keck has found, through data collected about the program over the past school year, that if a student shows up to class and is on task, that student will succeed and graduate.

Credits Earned by Students Enrolled More Than 85 Days in First Semester
Average Attendance Credits Earned Number of Students Average Days Attended Since Enrollment
94.50% 7 2 100
81.70% 6 3 86
86.00% 5 3 90
74.60% 4 5 79
81.10% 3 9 84
84.10% 2 17 86
74.40% 1 29 78
59.60% 0 69 62

A service that AdvancePath will offer, which Keck hopes will improve attendance, is day-care for students with children. Day care will only be at Eastern’s AdvancePath program. Keck says he is, “hoping to have it running as soon as possible.”

During first semester this year, only Sexton High School had AdvancePath fully operating. But, starting at the beginning of the second semester all three high schools’ programs were fully functional with two sessions a day. Eastern and Everett have morning and afternoon sessions, while Sexton has an afternoon and evening session. So, we can expect the number of credits earned to be much higher at the end of the year.

Some people have looked past the statistics and straight into the classroom finding they don’t approve the AdvancePath program, including, School Board Member, Amy Hodgin, and Everett teacher, Jim Allen. Their biggest complaints are that attendance is very low and when students do show up they are not on task. Hodgin said at a school board meeting, “This program will never succeed. You can ask anybody around those classes, those kids are screaming, those kids are playing music, those kids are doing everything but studying. It is a pathetic program.” Hodgin went on to propose that the Lansing District forget about AdvancePath and return to Ed Options.

Allen felt the same way. When he went before the school board he told stories of kids coming late, leaving early and wandering the halls. He even said, “I came in [to school] one morning, and I was afraid I was going to get high from the smell of marijuana coming from one student standing in the hallway outside of the classroom.” Allen made it clear that he did not believe this program was going to solve the problem of credit recovery. He thinks the Lansing School District needs to go back to the drawing board and try again.

Not everyone on the school board had similar views about AdvancePath. Board Member Guillermo Lopez said, “this is a program that is just starting. We always seem to want results right away, so I think we need to work with the program, look at the possibilities because we can not go back to what we had before.”

Keck, backed by some of the board members said, “I will defend the program.” He truly believes AdvancePath is the best option for alternative education students and that it can and will work.

In reference to the problems listed above Keck said, “we are working on attendance issues by making sure we contact the parents, we do home visits and we make sure the students feel comfortable and are able to understand the way to learn with the computers.“

If you have further questions about AdvancePath contact Sergio Keck at Sergio.keck@lansingschools.net.

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