Choosing a school for your children is one of the most important decisions any family will make. You want to know that your children are valued as they move through the school system and that their best self is being nurtured along the way.
While some students might thrive in public schools, others find the setting severely lacking.
This realization might lead you to wonder about what other options there are for your child's education. How can you know if an alternative school is right for your child, though?
Let's take a look at everything you need to know so that you, your child, and your family can make an informed decision about their educational path.
What Is an Alternative School?
The formal definition of an alternative school differs between states. The simplest definition of this term is any school that isn't the public school that your child has a constitutional right to attend.
However, alternative schools aren't necessarily private schools. There are a number of alternative school options that exist within public school systems as well.
Alternative schools typically have non-traditional curriculums. That being said, there is still guidance and oversight in place to make sure the education provided meets certain standards.
Examples of Alternative Schools
There isn't a set definition for what a non-traditional curriculum is as there are a wide variety of alternative curriculums. This might mean a school that has a curriculum that's focused heavily on one area or that guarantees smaller class sizes.
Some examples of alternative schools include:
- Magnet schools
- Charter schools
- Vocational/career-themed schools
- Language immersion schools
- Religious schools
- Waldorf schools
- Remedial schools
- Special education schools
- Boarding schools
- Montessori schools
- Traditional private schools
- Reggio Emilia schools
- Blended learning schools
As you can see, the term "alternative school" covers a broad range of educational types and doesn't simply refer to progressive schools. There are alternative kindergarten options, alternative high school options, and everything in between.
Even traditional private school is considered an alternative form of schooling. This is because they don't have the same curriculum standards as traditional public schools.
What Are the Benefits of Alternative Schools?
Parents and students might be drawn to alternative school options for a number of different reasons. Some people might look to alternative education because their children aren't thriving in their current environment. Others might send their children to an alternative school because they are gifted in a certain subject.
Different Teaching Philosophies and Models
Not all students thrive under the traditional curriculum and philosophy of public schools. If you and your child feel that public school isn't a good fit for them, it's worth exploring some of the different teaching philosophies practiced by various alternative schools. You might find that there is a teaching style, such as progressive education, that is much more in line with your student's ideal style of learning.
Smaller Class Sizes
One reason that many people are drawn to alternative schools is because of the smaller class sizes they typically have. Public schools often have less than ideal teacher-to-student ratios in classrooms. This means that your child might not be receiving the one-on-one attention they need.
Specific Subject or Skill Focus
Public schools give kids the opportunity to take a little bit of everything when it comes to academic courses. However, at the same time, these schools often are lacking when students have a specific skill or subject that they want to focus on.
Many alternative schools are set up so that students can both get a well-rounded education while also focusing on their area of interest.
For example, if your child is very drawn to the arts, you might find that public schools don't have the resources or classes to help foster your child's growth in that way.
Another benefit of going an alternate route when it comes to schooling is that some alternative schools partner with local colleges to allow students to start earning college credits while they're still in high school. There are also vocational schools that allow students to learn necessary skills for a wide variety of trades, allowing them to more quickly and effectively move into the workforce when they graduate.
Special Needs and Behavior Programs
Traditional schools can prove to be difficult for students who are gifted, struggle with behavior, or have a cognitive or learning disability. These schools are often not designed to support these kinds of students, and for this reason, many parents consider sending their children to alternative schools. Alternative schools after often staffed with professionals and teachers who are specifically trained to work with students who have special needs.
The Cost of Alternative School
There are a number of different factors that impact how much alternative schooling costs. These include whether the school is private or public, if your state offers vouchers, or if your child receives scholarships.
The cost of an alternative school can range from $0 to more than $26,000. The average cost for elementary private schooling in the nation is around $12,350 annually.
Charter and magnet schools are usually public schools. This means that, typically, it doesn't cost extra to have your children attend these schools. That being said, there might be additional costs in the form of transportation, uniforms, or other expenses.
Both of these types of schools can be quite competitive and rely on lottery systems for enrollment.
If the alternative elementary school (or another grade level) you are interested in is private then there will likely be tuition. Some schools do offer sliding scales or scholarships to help reduce the burden of the cost. On top of that, if schools receive funding from the federal or state government then parents might be able to use a private school voucher to reduce the cost of tuition.
How to Decide Whether Your Child Would Benefit From Alternative School
Every child is different, and for some children, a traditional public school might perfectly suit their needs. For others, though, the standard curriculum could hold them back from thriving.
Does Your Child's School Meet His or Her Needs?
If your child is currently in school, you will want to consider both the current year but also the coming years in the school. For instance, if you're worried that the school isn't challenging your child enough, you can look into whether they will be able to take advanced classes in the future.
If your kid is struggling currently, you'll want to take a long hard look at whether or not the school can provide the necessary support. You'll also want to look into whether the academic and extracurricular programs your child wants are offered by their current school.
You ideally want to find a school that works for your child for the long haul, not just for their current grade. Take the temperature of their current school and prospective school to understand how the culture, teaching philosophy, and workload might change as your child grows.
Does Your Child Fit in at His or Her Current School?
One thing you will want to consider when thinking about alternative schools is whether or not your child fits in at his or her current school.
Step back and ask yourself a number of important questions, such as:
- Does your child like going to school every day?
- Are they involved in a number of different activities and/or sports?
- Do they have a healthy, active, and engaged social life?
You'll also want to take these same questions into consideration when you are looking at prospective new schools. Parents can often be tempted to gain admission to the most prestigious schools. Even when this is done with the best interest of the child in mind, it's important to understand that fitting in and a sense of belonging is a crucial ingredient to success.
For example, a child might be doing well at their current school and have a healthy and fulfilling social life. At a more academically demanding school, however, they might struggle to fit in and their grades might start slipping. It's important to remember that your child's wellbeing is the priority and is way more important than saying that they're enrolled at a competitive school.
Can You Afford to Switch Schools?
If it is obvious that your child should switch schools, you'll want to consider the financial investment. As mentioned earlier, there might be options when it comes to scholarships or other forms of aid.
What Would Be Best For Your Entire Family?
You'll also want to consider how a move to an alternative school will impact your entire family. Will all of your children attend the same alternative school, or will they be going to different institutions every day?
How to Explore Alternative School Options
If the alternative middle school (or high school, elementary school, etc.) is looking like the right option, it's time to start exploring particular schools. Let's take a look at the process.
Make a List of Schools
This is the shopping part of the process. Explore the photo galleries and video tours on different alternative school websites to get a sense of what the options are in your area.
Consider looking into some of the different teaching philosophies that have grown as alternatives to traditional schooling. You might find that some of those might be appropriate or appealing to your child.
Make a bookmark folder on your computer to save your favorite schools from this preliminary search.
It's important to involve your child in this process. While it's certainly fine to guide the process, you'll want to avoid imposing your idea of the perfect school onto your child.
Before switching schools, you and your child will definitely want to visit. This can give both of you a feel for what each school is like and whether or not it's a good fit. You can also attend admissions events to learn more about each school.
Many schools will also allow children to attend classes to get a sense of what going to school there might be like. If you're interested in a boarding school, many schools will let children stay overnight.
Consider Admissions Testing
Having your children take admissions tests can help you find the school that fits your child's needs best. You can compare your child's score to the average scores of different schools. This allows you to understand where your child might be under-stimulated and where they might be overwhelmed by the workload.
Apply For Admission
Finally, it's time to apply!
You'll want to make sure you get all of the required application materials in on time (and early, if possible.) It is increasingly common for schools to offer online portals that allow you to track your application's progress. This is also the time to apply for financial aid if that's something you're interested in.
Are You Looking Through a Progressive School For Your Child?
The strong progressive foundation that Voyagers' Community School is built on provides an unrivaled educational atmosphere. Our curriculum is lively and innovative, allowing our highly skilled staff to meet the individual needs and interests of every student.
In public schools, students often don't have the opportunity to express themselves or the freedom to be fully creative. At Voyagers', we are committed to helping each and every child reach their potential.
Are you interested in learning more about one of the leading private schools in New Jersey? Follow this link to learn more about our alternative school.
Interested in learning more about what alternative schools can offer your child? Read our article about alternative high schools.