MASSENA -- Educators believe that every student is different; that one size doesn’t fit all. In Massena, one way that belief takes shape is the district’s innovative and highly effective alternative education school.
Unfortunately, the term “alternative education” often carries a negative stereotype, so school officials have adopted a new name that better reflects the school’s mission, Delta School of Choice.
“We felt like it was time for a change and we felt that it was time to change our image, a new start in education,” said Delta Principal Jeremy Siddon.
The new name reflects the students who attend the school. Delta—the mathematic symbol for change—symbolizes the students’ changing outlook on school and life and their desire for success. School of Choice reflects the policy that students are not sent to the school, but must choose to become a part.
The name change has drawn mixed reviews from Delta’s students. Some are more comfortable with the old name and others like sophomore Maryann Binan embrace the new name. “It’s different,” she said.
Sophomore Hannah Donalis summed up the reason behind the change, “I like it because it doesn’t have the negative effect that ‘Alternative Education’ did. Everyone associates alternative education with a bad school and I think with a new name, it gives us a different perspective,” she said.
More than a name—redefining alternative education
Like any other school, Delta School of Choice’s mission is to educate students and to promote volunteer service, civic involvement and character learning. What sets Delta apart is that its students learn in a non-traditional or alternative setting.
That does not mean Delta is like most other alternative education programs that fail to prepare students for college or careers. On the contrary, Delta takes students who found little success in traditional classrooms and gives them a second chance in education—real education. Teachers at Delta teach the same core subjects, but modify their approach to better reach their students. Smaller class sizes give teachers more time to spend with each student and to focus on individual needs. As a result, Delta students are staying in school and finding success. In fact, the school will celebrate its first graduates next June.
“It’s not just a game – we don’t just sit here and play games. We do the same exact same curriculum that everyone else does and sometimes do it faster and we learn a lot more from it. I like the way the teachers explain things to us. It just seems like they teach it in a different way and it makes it easier,” said sophomore Heaven German.
The more individualized approach may make the program more successful, but it is also more costly. That draws greater scrutiny when budgets are tight.
As a result, budget time brings rumors of cuts or even abolishing the school. Delta students are quick to defend the school citing the positive academic and social effect the school has had in their lives.
“This school has helped me a lot. When I came here in 7th grade I didn’t have any social skills, at all. This school has changed a lot people,” said Heaven.
“Because of this school, I now know that next year I want to go to BOCES for Criminal Justice and then college. I didn’t think I’d make it very far; in elementary I had a lot of problems. I couldn’t really communicate with people so I didn’t really think about college—but then I came here and they talked about it a lot and realized I really want to,” she added.
“It (Delta School of Choice) saved me – from getting in trouble, from failing and now I want to go to college. I want to go to BOCES,” said sophomore Justice Montoya.
“I like it because it helps us get back to how we should be - not causing trouble and getting into trouble. It also keeps us away from bullying,” said Hannah.
“It helped me a lot – now I know I’m going to college. I’m not big with big crowds so this is a good thing for me,” said Maryann
And it is not just students who are sold on the school. School staff understand the difficultly others may have finding value in their program—but they are quick to say that seeing is believing.
“We would love for people to come in and see what this program is all about. I just firmly believe in this program and what it does for the kids. We welcome Board members to talk to the kids – to talk to the parents of kids that were struggling before they came to Delta. Everybody deserves the chance to an education,” said Teaching Assistant Darcy Labarge.
“Success is measured in many different ways and it is important to understand that students learn differently. If we can identify how a student learns, then the sky is the limit. Over the last five years, there have been many changes to the alternative school. This year we wanted to give the school a new name that would change the image of the school. Delta means change and for many of the students enrolled in the school changes have occurred over the course of them being in the alternative school,” said Mr. Siddon.