Alternate Education Program
Students that attend grades 6-12 in Union or Towns County Schools don't get to stay at home if they are suspended for disciplinary reasons. If suspended for a semester or more, students are sent to the Alternate Education Program. AEP maintains a structured, consistent environment that helps students stay on track and keeps them from falling behind.
The curriculum follows state standards just like any other school. The program is very successful. Most students return to regular school and go on to graduate. Due to a small population of students, AEP is able to give individual attention. The students are from all walks of life. Most have poor self-esteem and a feeling of not belonging. Mr. Jim Clark is the Principle of AEP and Mr. Justin Byers does double duty as Afternoon Administrator and Special Ed Teacher. "Our job is to provide a good education. We also help the kids to adjust and develop coping skills. We want our students to have self-respect. If they can feel a little success, then they want more. Our goal is to get them back in regular school."
Discipline at AEP is a creative process. Students stand at attention and follow consistent, structured procedures. They learn quickly what is expected. If someone gets out of line, teachers use different approaches depending on the situation. Students may be sent to the time-out room, made to sit next to the teacher, complete extra assignments, or do push-ups. Physical exercise does wonders. "You would be surprised at how much exercise helps. A student focuses much better after running a couple of laps." Byers added, "We teach that bad behavior is not tolerated. It's not tolerated in class or later in real life situations." Some times students are put on work details. If a student writes on a wall, then they wash the wall. If they track in mud, they mop the floor.
AEP students have group activities on Fridays with focus on learning problem solving skills and learning how to be a part of a group. They are given small goals to accomplish. Arguments may happen but as long as there's nothing really hostile the staff steps back and allows the students to work it out. The students at AEP develop a common bond when they realize that they are all in it together. They look to the teachers and staff as examples. Adults are their role models. A couple of weeks ago, one group of students set some very high goals. One read, "We will achieve excellence in everything we do." This comes from young people that were once very unmotivated. They set at a round table and vote on things. They hold each other accountable.
Rewards in the beginning are small, such as a few minutes of free time. The rewards are not scheduled, they are earned. Later in the semester rewards are greater with parties and a graduation ceremony. When a student receives a reward as simple as a pat on the back, it is understood that it was earned. When young people enter this program, they learn really fast that life is not about self gratification. They learn that success involves having meaningful relationships with other people. The AEP program is currently in its fifth year of operation in Blairsville, Georgia. For more information contact the Union or Towns County Board of Education.