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Getting Through High School

Getting through high school is challenging for almost all children, especially considering the pressures around AP/Honors courses and extracurricular activities. But for kids who have learning challenges, it can seem ever more so. But there are many ways to graduate from high school and have a relatively stress free and memorable experience.

Within the Public School System

Public schools often offer a range of options open to all students. Each public school is different and parents will have to find out what is available in their neighborhood school. Surprisingly most parents don’t know that these options exist until it is too late.

High School Graduation Requirements

Parents should be aware that a child can satisfy the requirements for a high school diploma without doing AP or Honors courses. In fact, many of the courses that are required for admission to elite colleges, such as a foreign language or higher level math aren’t required either.  There are many options for paths beyond high school, many of which don’t require following the most stringent high school curriculum. Parents should consider helping their children plan their high school course load in a way that maximizes learning and minimizes stress.

Options for students with an IEP and or 504

In a high school setting, students with an IEP or 504 can take a class called Learning Skills, which provides more time to finish tests or homework. This class also offers one-on-one help with subjects that may be challenging. In addition to Learning Skills, some IEPs allow the child to take modified classes which provide a differentiated or reduced curriculum to make learning easier, while still working towards a high school diploma. And lastly, there are special day classes, including life skills training or therapeutic support for students who have severe cognitive and emotional issues that get in the way of learning.

Online Independent study to Augment Traditional High School

This is an online software course delivery system. Students meet with a teacher once per week to monitor their progress. The rest of the course work is completed by the student at home on their computer. Depending on the needs of the student, the course can be completed in one or two semesters of the same academic year. The purpose of the course is to offer an alternative instructional method to meet the diverse skills and needs of students.

Continuation or Alternative School Programs

These programs are ideal for students who prefer a small school setting, haven’t had success in a traditional school setting or work best in flexible classrooms where a variety of learning styles and needs are honored. Students may attend these schools voluntarily or be involuntarily transferred due to violation of school district policies. There are many possible paths after attending one of these schools: enable students to graduate from high school prepared to attend college and career programs, allow students to complete required courses to transition or return to a traditional high school, instruct and guide students who have unique needs and provide special education services for those students who qualify. Some of these schools may also provide counseling services and coordinators to determine the right services for students with difficult circumstances.

A school within a school – specialized schools

Some public school districts offer paths that are better suited for some kids. For example, a local school district has an Academy of Communication Arts & Technology, where some junior and senior high school students develop skills in effective written, oral and visual communication and work with the latest multimedia technology. Students can find outlets for creative expression through project based learning and real world connections. Different public school districts may have their own school within a school depending on the needs in that area.

Expanded Education

This provides expanded educational options to juniors and seniors who are seeking an alternative to regular high school with a serious academic focus. The program is usually housed at a local community college campus. It serves students who are academically talented, capable of doing college level work, but who, for a variety of reasons, may not be performing up to their potential in a traditional high school. Students receive college credit for their college coursework. Students must meet the same high school graduation requirements as their peers in a traditional school to earn a diploma from their home high school.

Augment public school with private classes for some courses

If public school is the main option, a student can mix it up with one-on-one instruction at an accredited institution, especially for courses they find challenging. This is not tutoring – students actually get credit for the course at the accredited institution and these credits are transferred to their high school. These places (such as Fusion Academy, School For Independent Learners and Futures Academy – all in which are in California) teach the subject at a student’s learning pace. The courses offered range from regular levels to Honors and AP courses. Another option is to take online high school classes for  challenging subjects (or for all courses). The pros of taking classes in a combined public and private school environment are that students learn at their own pace, there is less peer pressure, teaching is customized and the need for additional tutoring or homework is eliminated. The negatives are that it is an expensive option, scheduling may be difficult since it has to fit around the public school schedule and it will require the student to travel back and forth from one school to another.

Public Charter Schools

A public charter school is still a public school that has some autonomy and is answerable to the education county in that area and not the local school district. The admission criteria vary, but typically admission is based on a lottery system. Some public charter schools are specifically designed to cater to students who do well in smaller classes and need more individual attention. This setting works great for students with learning challenges. One example is the Summit Schools in Northern California and Washington State.

Private Schools

Most private high schools are not required by law to support students with learning disabilities. However, there are specific ones that have small class sizes, hands-on self-paced learning, individual attention and even a specialized focus if the student is very interested or good at a certain subject. A few such schools in Northern California are listed here as examples of private schools you may want to look into in your area:



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