Promoting Healthy Alternative Schools and Community Partnerships Initiative
Alaska’s Alternative Schools (defined as those serving high risk students) provide a broad spectrum of critical educational and health-enhancing services to, arguably, Alaska’s most vulnerable youth. While the state’s Alternative Schools serve a diverse student population including students from all backgrounds, their student composition profiles differently than the student body that typifies Alaska’s traditional schools. Alaska’s Alternative Schools primarily serve youth who have been unable to achieve academic success in traditional school environments for one or more of a constellation of reasons. Examples of the identified student barriers to learning include homelessness, poverty, untreated mental health issues such as depression and social anxiety teen parenting, substance use and abuse, and unaddressed health needs. The 2011 Alaska Alternative School Youth Risk Behavior Survey results provide additional insight into the self-reported myriad of social, psychological, and behavioral challenges that must be addressed before students can maximize their academic potential. For example, Alaska’s Alternative School high school youth reported disproportionately elevated levels of victimization; they were twice as likely to have acknowledged being the victims of domestic violence as well as of sexual assault, indicated higher levels of hopelessness, and reported lower levels of community support/connectedness than their traditional school peers. Indeed, the 2011 Alternative School YRBS results reveal a nearly universal pattern in Alaska’s Alternative School students of heightened involvement in the risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of premature death, disease, injury, and social challenges in the United States http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Chronic/Pages/yrbs/yrbsresults.aspx.
In 2008, the Department of Education & Early Development began a statewide initiative to assist Alaska’s Alternative Schools in increasing their students’ academic success by addressing the social challenges, unmet psychological and physical health needs, and environmental barriers that impede their learning. EED’s primary support is comprised of providing site administrators and key health-related staff with professional development, mini-grants, and evidence-based strategies to expand/coordinate community-wide systems of support. EED’s Alternative School Initiative has grown since its inception in 2008 and presently includes 13 Alternative Schools from Anchorage, Juneau, Ketchikan, Mat-Su, Kenai, North Slope, and Sitka. Collectively these Alternative Schools serve nearly 2,900 at-risk youth, of which, more than 1,100 quality for free or reduced lunch, 238 are pregnant or parenting teens, and 410 are homeless. As awareness of the initiative, its mission, and the at-risk youth population it serves grows, new partners are emerging and contributing to its work. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Service’s Division of Behavioral Health, the Alaska Suicide Prevention Council, and the Centers for Disease Control have joined EED’s Health and Special Education Units in braiding resources to sustain and advance the initiative. The Promoting Healthy Alternative Schools and Community Partnerships Initiative is yielding results, with sites reporting increased attendance, increased graduation rates, declining youth risk behaviors, increased number of credits earned by students, increased professional development on health topics, increased life coach support, increased physical education and physical activity, increased mentorship programs, increased faith-based outreach, increased effort to reduce teen pregnancy, increased collaboration with public health nurses, increased number of health courses being offered, increased services to homeless students, increased use of evidence –based health curricula, reintroduction of food/nutrition courses, implementation of tobacco cessation programs, provision of student health fairs, and emergent partnerships with a large collection of community partners providing everything from mental health counseling to discounted gym memberships.
Schools Involved in Year 5 (2012-2013)
Click on the school names to see their descriptions.
The following documents contain the analysis of the 2011 Alaska Youth Risk Behavior Survey results for Alternative Schools and Traditional Schools:
- 2011 Alaska Youth Risk Behavior Highlights - pdf
- 2011 Alternative Schools Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results - pdf
- 2011 Traditional Schools Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results - pdf
For more information or if you have any questions, please contact us:
Terri Campbell, Education Specialist
Telephone: (907) 465-8719
Todd Brocious, Education Specialist
Telephone: (907) 465-2887
Sharon Fishel, Education Specialist
Telephone: (907) 465-6523