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Board to cut gym, art at Alternative Learning Center

May 22, 2001

Board to cut gym, art at Alternative Learning Center



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Students attending the Alternative Learning Center next year will not be offered full-period physical education and art classes, according to the Washington County Board of Education's director of secondary education.

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At least one school staff member and a parent said they believe the classes are necessary for the school's struggling students.

But Boyd Michael, the director of secondary education, said the elimination of full-period physical education and art will allow more time for more core curriculum subjects, including language arts, math, science and social studies.

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He said he thinks additional time spent on core curriculum subjects will better prepare the students once they leave the Alternative Learning Center and head back to their home schools.

"They were behind when the left (their home schools), and when they leave the Alternative Learning Center they're further behind than they ever were," Michael said.

He said the Alternative Learning Center should have had about 35 to 40 students who were eligible for graduation last year, but none graduated. He said those students either ended up dropping out once they went back to their home schools or moved out of the county.

"The Alternative Learning Center hasn't been very good," Michael said. "Last year we couldn't find any graduates who have ever attended the Alternative Learning Center."

The school serves sixth- through ninth-grade students.

This year, three of the 35 to 40 former Alternative Learning Center students who should have been eligible to graduate will finish school, he said. In the current 11th grade, just five students who have attended the center remain in high school.

Michael said the physical education and art teachers at the school will not lose their jobs, but that they could be reassigned to other schools.

The students will receive limited amounts of art and physical education activities that would be provided by the remaining core curriculum teachers. Those teachers would need to be trained so they can carry out some of those activities, Michael said.

David Hutchins, a math teacher at the Alternative Learning Center who is retiring this year, said the reason students haven't been performing well once they're back in their home schools is because the schools are not set up to handle their educational and behavioral needs.

In order to be effective, students sent to the Alternative Learning Center should spend the remainder of their educational careers there. He said students do not want to leave the Alternative Learning Center once they have spent some time there.

"These kids have not succeeded in a regular program," Hutchins said. "They have proved to the world academics is not where it's at (for them)."

He said many of his students are interested in careers that stress skills, not academics.

"They failed because they have a variety of problems that take extra care," Hutchins said.

Many of the students sent to the Alternative Learning Center have poor home lives and emotional problems, school staff has said. In addition to their studies, the school must also provide students with therapeutic and behavioral treatment.

Hutchins, who spent 30 years teaching in Prince George's County, Md., said he's retiring because he's frustrated over the lack of support the Alternative Learning Center receives from the Board of Education's central office.

He said the school needs to stress more of a behavioral component and staff should be treated with respect. He claims the school's technology is lacking or outdated and that staff was not aware of next year's changes.

"I'm leaving ... because I don't like what I see next year," Hutchins said. "This is a school without a mission. We're not coherent in what we're trying to do."

"It's a school in distress," he said. "If we're going to have an alternative school, at least let's make it an alternative."

Tammy Zello, of Hagerstown, said she thinks the school system is making a mistake by cutting back on art and physical education. She said her son became a student at the school on Monday.

"These children are there because they have problems," Zello said. "Where in the world are they going relieve some of their stress if you take away these classes? The kids are going to act out in class. I think it's a ridiculous decision."

She said she plans to write Michael a letter to voice her concerns and do whatever it takes to get her message across to the central office.

"You're putting kids that are already at risk in a bad situation," Zello said. "It's not fair for the kids, but it's not fair to the teachers also."

The Alternative Learning Center is described in its handbook as an alternative program that provides educational and therapeutic services to students who have demonstrated an inability to perform successfully in their home schools even when provided with the maximum support available through that school.

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