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 2013 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 2013 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 (EED) 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 composed 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 for their schools. EED’s Alternative School Initiative has grown since its inception in 2008 and includes 13 Alternative Schools from Anchorage, Juneau, Ketchikan, Mat-Su, Kenai, North Slope, and Sitka. Collectively these Alternative Schools serve nearly 2,000 at-risk youth, of which more than half qualify for free or reduced lunch, hundreds are pregnant or parenting teens, and hundreds more are homeless. Currently the Alaska Department of Health and Social Service’s Division of Behavioral Health and the Alaska Suicide Prevention Council are collaborating with EED’s Health unit 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. In addition to the compelling improved health and academic achievement data reported by the initiative’s Alternative School sites is the promising data reported by the students themselves. Since the state began collecting Alternative School data in 2009 at the beginning of the initiative, significant declines in student reported risk behaviors have occurred in many of the areas Alaska has identified as most harmful to Alaskans’ collective health. Between 2009 and 2013 Alternative School YRBS data indicates significant downward trends in student tobacco use, alcohol use, and illicit drug use, as well as an increase in youth engagement in meaningful activities. Finally, students reported concurrent increases in academic success as evidenced by both a decrease in self-reported absenteeism from school (without permission) and an increase in the percentage of students reporting their grades were mostly A’s and B’s.
Schools Involved in Year 6 (2013-2014)
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
Staff Contact Information
For more information or if you have any questions, please contact us:
Todd Brocious, Education Specialist
Telephone: (907) 465-2887
Sharon Fishel, Education Specialist
Telephone: (907) 465-6523