Alternative School: Alternative Trajectories

I had the opportunity to attend Crossroads Alternative in Hollysprings  my senior year of high school. Instead of the prescribed method of “doing school” we were allowed to “do school” however we deemed appropriate.

This method includes taking courses in whichever order you fancy and finishing courses however fast or slow you want. Instead of completing these assignments which were geared, as far as my narrow high school student understanding was concerned, to foster “curiosity” or to “entertain” and were largely a waste of my time because I did not understand or see the value in completing these assignments. For instance, I’ll be damned if I am going to create a 3D model of a house because I read a book that described a house one time. Are you joking? What does building a wooden house have to do with expanding my knowledge of a novel? No, no, no. This high school was not for me. I was labeled “lazy” and “indifferent.” Oh, okay. So, because I disagree with your fundamental pedagogy, I’m the lazy one? No, stereotypical high school teacher, I’m not lazy. I have way too much energy to spend three weeks on ONE almost two hundred page book. I am not saying I’m more intelligent than any other person, but I have vastly more energy. I would rather quickly do something with mediocre effort than to spend 2 weeks doing something with the same level of mediocrity. Hence the plethora of Bs I received in my original high school.

I think it’s interesting to note my grades between my first high school, the alternative school, and current grades in college. My first trajectory in my original high school was dictated by my teacher (who was the product of forces I did not understand at the time). Referring to the narrative above, we were instructed to complete these “attention grabbing” activities, we had to read a bunch of crap, discuss the crap we just read, finish some other ridiculous assignment to make sure we could apply the crap we read and discussed, and then we would have a giant test over all the crap and assignments we just completed. The whole class moves at the same speed. Everyone does the same thing and the same time. You can’t go too fast or too slow. You have to complete things when the professor says so or else you’re a horrible human being, and you are unfit to mingle with these other perfect specimens of societal indoctrination. Needless to say, my grades were not the best in my original high school. Well, I had a lot of Bs, and one or two As. While attending Crossroads I had all As, and now, in college, my GPA is a 3.87. I’d say that’s pretty good. It’s also a lot better than my original high school GPA which was a 3.2 (a 2.7 according to the Hope calculator).

I found myself at Crossroads Alternative school with other “bad” kids like me who didn’t want to conform to this idealized educational utopia. I was there for one week before I was placed on the Academic Bowl (at an Alternative School this was pretty entertaining), and I quickly gained a “good” reputation for finishing assignments and for having good behavior. This was VASTLY different from my high school where the general consensus was that I was a horrible human  being. I had Saturday school for 4 months one time. FOUR MONTHS OF SATURDAY SCHOOL. Why, you ask? Well, because my locker was in the basement of the gym. My biology book weight about 15 pounds. I had to walk all the way to the basement floor of the gym to grab this book before class (it was physically impossible for me to carry it all day long), and they just so happened to be experimenting with the bell-time in between classes during this particular year. I was late every single day. I refused to serve my detentions because I was TRYING to get to class, but since I was not ALLOWED to run, I couldn’t get to class on time. I took my Saturday Schools as an excuse to have a tutor every Saturday morning.

For every class you completed at Crossroads, not only were you rewarded your grade, but you were also given a “half day.” Half days could be spent to leave school early or come late for one day. You weren’t required to slam your schedule full of electives because you had extra slots left over. You took the amount of classes for you to “graduate” your grade. Then, you would move forward until you completed high school.

The entire process was completely up to you. If you didn’t want to do the assignments, that’s nice, but you aren’t going to move forward. The students felt responsible for their education. If you didn’t want to be there anymore, you could a) get expelled or b) finish your work so quickly you graduate as quickly as possible. I was on trajectory B. I should note that getting expelled wasn’t so difficult at Crossroads. Everyone there was pretty much on their last leg in public education, so you had one strike then you were out. You quickly realized you could not mess around too much if you ever wanted to graduate high school.

For me, I started and finished my senior year in a 5 week span of time. The assignments were straight out of the book. Read Ch. 1. Then, do the assessments and mini assignments. When I finished each chapter my teacher (the teachers would oversee an entire content area not distinguished by “grade” since everyone was on different trajectories) would give me a test over that chapter. Depending on my grade, I could move on or I would have to redo the chapter until I passed it. I learned WAY MORE in those classes than I ever did in ANY of my classes at my original high school. I would take my books home, and I would do as much homework as I could in the evening, come into school the next day, take a bunch of tests, and move on. It also helped that I was in advanced science and math at my original high school (weird, I’m an English Ed major now which only furthers my argument that my original school had no idea how to operate a high school), so I had finished my math and science credits by the time I was a sophmore and junior, respectively. My senior year consisted of 2 credits until graduation: 1 credit in Brit lit, 1/2 credit in government, and 1/2 credit in economics.

After I graduated, I sat in my room, played Guitar Hero (seriously, this is the reason I am embarrassingly good at GH), and worked full time as a manager at a Dunkin Donuts. I saved a bunch of money to buy myself a car, bought a car, then started planning the next phase of my life– all the while my other friends were still held prisoner inside that place so cleverly disguised as “school.”

As a future teacher, this example of taking a different trajectory really highlights one important thing I hope to never forget about my students: THEY ARE ALL DIFFERENT. As a future English teacher, this highlights one important thing I hope to never forget about my students: THEY CREATE WRITING DIFFERENTLY. I don’t believe in the one size fits all “writing workshops.” UGH. If we want to have variety in this world and to not murder passionate writing, we have to stop cramming students into this high school mold of perfection. It just doesn’t work for everyone, and it certainly didn’t work for me.

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