Compass: Now is the time to check out alternative schools in Anchorage

By TELAINA MUIRFebruary 16, 2014 

Since February has been designated Visit Our Schools Month for the Anchorage School District, parents should take advantage of the invitation, especially as the upcoming lottery application deadline for alternative school programs is March 27. If you missed the last two school tours, there are still tours scheduled for the 18th and 25th.

The lottery is a system in which parents can apply to have their kids attend a school or program that is not in their designated school zone or an alternative or charter school.

If you are looking for something different for your child an alternative or charter school can be a great option. These programs vary from different curriculums to varied approaches of teaching. There are over 40 alternative and charter schools available in the Anchorage area ranging from grades K-12. Some programs are even available within the traditional school. Language-immersion programs include Spanish, Russian, German, Japanese and Chinese.

The advantages of these programs can be immense if it's the right fit for your child. Some programs feature a holistic, child-centered environment focusing on independence, goal-setting and personal interests. The language-immersion programs give children the advantage of learning a language early and fluently while being educated about a different culture, which can open up opportunities for your child in the future. Other programs emphasize academics and behavior while setting clear goals and expectations.

"I'd say our program offers more structure, phonics reading instruction, a direct instruction delivery model in all subjects and a focus on student achievement using a rigid grading scale. We also emphasize citizenship, patriotism and community involvement," says Timothy Blake, principal of Birchwood ABC Elementary.

In addition to "Visit Our Schools Month" tours, parents considering the programs can also attend open houses, like the one Birchwood has scheduled for March 24.

The disadvantages to an alternative program or charter school include the possibility of providing transportation to and from school for your child if the particular program you are seeking is in another school boundary. Some programs may have a more rigorous academic workload. Schools may require a certain number of hours for the parents to volunteer.

For our family, the advantages greatly outweighed the disadvantages.

If you are interested in an alternative or charter school you can apply to the lottery program by picking up applications at the school or online at www.asdk12.org/choices/lottery. This link also includes a FAQ and a link to school board policy that governs the lottery.

If you have a child who will be a kindergartner next fall, apply now to your programs of choice as spaces fill up quickly. The same goes for an older child. Less space may be available, but the sooner you apply the better.

You can apply to several programs at once and even be on the wait list for those you have applied to. Siblings need to apply separately, and if an older sibling is in a program already the younger sibling will still need to apply.

According to the website, once on the wait list you do not have to apply again.

Be your own child's advocate. Become familiar with the lottery process and policy. The ASD website FAQ has a lot of information, but if you still have questions contact the administrator to your school of choice. Ask any questions and voice your concerns. Make them aware of your child's unique circumstances.

The list of the 40-plus Alternative and Charter schools and programs is available at www.asdk12.org/choices.

The lottery draw is March 28, with another one coming in the fall. Take ASD's advice and visit its schools. I'm happy I did.

Telaina Muir is a mother of three who opted to enter the lottery for an alternative school and says she daily sees the benefits of that choice. She lives in Eagle River.

 

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