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Columbus takes note of alternative school

ANDIS – Students stood at attention in the school’s gymnasium while local and state dignitaries discussed education.

Friday, September 07, 2001

ANDIS – Students stood at attention in the school’s gymnasium while local and state dignitaries discussed education. The student’s quiet demeanor, though, wasn’t for show – it’s just the way it’s done at the county’s Alternative School in Andis.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Susan Tave Zelman, came to the school yesterday, paying a visit to the instructors and students at the school.

With the Supreme Court’s decision on school funding coming later Thursday, Zelman told those gathered at the school that educators need to "put the school-funding issue behind us" and "focus on what matters, the children."

Zelman called the school faculty and the county’s education community caring and committed to the success of students, noting the high success rate of the school.

According to state statistics, the county’s alternative school is one of two schools in the state that has a return rate less than 40 percent. Only 8 percent of the students who go to the school returns the second time. Gallia County’s program, which is mirrored from the Lawrence County school, has an 11 percent return rate.

School director Mike Vavra said the school averages 38 students a day. Students are sent from their home school for a number of offenses including fighting, insubordination and tobacco use.

Students can spend anywhere from one day to the entire school year at the facility. The school also meets the educational needs of students in the group home who attend the school for the duration of their stay at the home.

Juvenile Court Judge David Payne said he feels the school has reduced the case load of the court because school administrators, for certain offenses, have an option to send students to the alternative school instead of recommending the student appear in court.

Why does the program work?

In a previous interview, Vavra said the rules at the alternative school are more rigid than in the regular schools and the students sign a sheet stating they understand what is expected at Andis. The students are also treated with respect. Staff and students refer to one another as "sir" or "ma’am" or by "Mr." or "Ms."

The students keep jewelry at home, restricted to wearing only a watch; girls keep their makeup on their nightstand because none is allowed; and the boys have to wear pants that fit. Baggy jeans aren’t allowed and if the student decides to wear them anyway, they are treated to a duct-tape hemming.

When the students arrive at the school their day of highly structured learning begins. Lining up on yellow tape line on the gym floor, the students stand at attention and are patted down and their coats and bookbags are checked for contraband. Silence and respect for themselves and others are the two main rules from the moment they enter the school.

The students then go through close-order drills. They learn and practice marching as a unit. Vavra explained that the drills aren’t so much for military reasons but as an exercise to build self-control.

Academic work and physical training fills the rest of the day’s schedule. The students exercise to build both self-esteem and self-control, ideas which are constantly reinforced at the school.

Although the program is physically challenging and the academics is consistent with regular high school programs, some students say they would rather attend the Alternative School than their home school.

S.B., a student from Ironton High School, said he prefers the way he’s treated at the Alternative School because of the level of respect. S.B. said he feels some teachers at his home school is biased against him – marking him as a "trouble" student. He said with that label following him around, he feels that he is marked for failure.

The student said he will incorporate the lessons in self-esteem and self-control into the way he conducts himself in the future. S.B. said he wished county educators would also incorporate some of the lessons from their school into the way they manage their classroom and school.