Clinical Experience Blog By: Kate Whiteman

When I signed up for my first clinical hours at the Regional Alternative School, I assumed it would be much like other schools; desks in rows, white board at the front of the room, notebooks, pencils, and homework. I had never been inside an alternative school and had no idea what to expect, but because all 20 of my clinical hours were at the Regional Alternative School I learned quickly just how different it was from other schools. My schools--from elementary school to high school--had been what most people would consider "normal." The format was very average. The teacher lectured and the students took notes. Quizzes, papers, and tests were scheduled throughout the semester. There were almost no changes to the "formula." In the case of the alternative school, they needed to make changes to the well-known formula in order to better teach and help their students.

Methodology & Technology

The alternative school's methodology was much different than other schools. For the students I observed in the digital wing, their school day consisted of individual computer work. There is a morning session and an afternoon session, approximately four hours each. The students must come to one or the other each day of the work week. Because they have half days, the students must submit work logs which can include community service, job hours, or even babysitting. There are no bells or class periods, they simply work through the four hours.

The students complete all their work on the computers that are provided by and kept at the school. At the end of each session there is an "advisory lesson" where the students watch a video that teaches some sort of life lesson. The computer lessons take the form of videos, readings, quizzes, reviews, and tests in a program called Edgenuity. All subjects and their respective lessons are self-paced. In order to keep the students on top of their work, they are given the incentive that if they complete 5% of each subject they are currently taking each week and turn in their work log, they are allowed to take Fridays off. Social media sites, and other sites they know students may abuse and waste their time on are blocked on the school's WiFi. The teachers also use a program called GoGuardian that allows them to see what each student is currently doing on their laptop. If it is off topic or they are wasting time, the teachers can close the tabs they are looking at. A very useful tool for keeping students focused on their work.

Each student takes the classes that they need to graduate and get their high school diploma. The digital wing has about 15-20 students who are all about high school age (grades 9-12), but at different levels in their education. The alternative school is much more flexible which is very helpful for the students who are in very difficult situations. For example, some students are homeless or deal with severe mental illnesses. There is little to no group work so all learning is very individualized. If the situation calls for it, or if the student has earned it, students may do all their work from home. The teachers and students work closely together. They communicate through chat, email, or face to face if they have questions. The class size is small and the two teachers that supervise the digital wing split the work, so they have a much closer relationship to each student than in a normal classroom.

Overall, I felt the way that the academics were organized was very intuitive considering the situations that many of the students were in. Students are held individually responsible for their own work and it is much more forgiving and flexible. Self-paced work allows students to learn at their own speed. A regular school has such a rigid schedule that it can hinder the learning of its students, but this format combats that well.


My expectations for the teachers at the alternative school was once again similar to what I had experienced in my schooling. I expected teachers to be nicely dressed, professional yet still kind and understanding, and organized. For the most part, the teachers were very similar to what I had expected.

The teachers, Mrs. Elko and Ms. Quick, dressed professionally. They usually wore slacks, skirts, and dresses. Although, the week the Cubs won the World Series, the teachers and students were able to wear Cubs garb. Other than that they were always dressed nicely. They never wore anything flashy or abnormal that could distract their students. The students themselves had to wear a button down shirt to school. If they did not the school would provide them with one. It was not incredibly strict, though.

The teachers were always kind towards their students. They knew each students circumstances and often times they were much more than teachers. They acted as counselors, friends, and resources for their students. For example, Mrs. Elko knew one of her students did not have a mattress to sleep on so when she saw that there was a business in Bloomington giving away mattresses to qualified citizens she made sure to grab a flyer for that student. The school itself is more than a school. The faculty made a designated room called the Community Resource Room were the students and citizens of Bloomington could come and get food, clothing, and household items for free. The school takes donations and then offers them back to the community. The school and its faculty are always positive. Rarely did I see anyone raise their voice to a student. They tried to be as understanding and accommodating to different situations as they could.

Since the teachers did not verbalize lessons themselves, the majority of the communication between teacher and student were questions about specific lesson content. They tried their hardest to make sure they were available at all times for their students. The two teachers balanced the work between the two of them very well. Mrs. Elko specialized in history and social sciences so she would help students who had questions with those subjects and Ms. Quick specialized in math and science, I believe, so she was more equipped to help students with those subjects. They spoke to the students like people, not kids. This has always been something I appreciated from my parents, teachers, and adults in general. Personally, I am much more likely to listen to and respect someone who respects me and does not treat me like a child. That is something that I would ensure to bring to my own classroom.

Understanding Learners

Since it was an alternative school, I knew the students would come from a variety of backgrounds and likely they would be in some sort of trouble with either their normal school or the law. I was right about a few things: the students did come from many different backgrounds, and yes, some where in trouble with the law or had been expelled from their regular school, but I was ignorant to how many types of situations would exist within the alternative school.

Some students chose to come to the alternative school because they had severe anxiety and the alternative school allowed them to work alone and communicate through chat or email, or possibly allow them to work from home. Other female students chose to come to the alternative school while they are pregnant to avoid stress. They may also come back to the alternative school after their children born. The alternative school allows them to pick up where they left off and offers a flexible schedule so they can take care of their children. The students were not just "bad kids," the students were people who needed an alternative to a regular high school experience. Looking back at my expectations, I feel guilty that I was so ignorant. I really admire these students. They are striving to create a life for themselves when life dealt them a bad hand. The school and its faculty are very accepting of all types of people. There was no such thing as discrimination or favoritism. They tried their best to accommodate everyone.

On my first day of clinicals, Mrs. Elko sat down with me and explained a lot of the technical processes including attendance policies, behavior policies, etc. It was immediately clear that there were things that took much higher priority than others. For example, there was a specific student who was dealing with a drug addiction. Often times he would miss school because of this. Because she knew that he was dealing with this issue she decided that instead of scolding him for missing school she would get in contact with the student's parents and the local rehabilitation center. It was much more important that he got help than being punished for missing school. Mrs. Elko explained that they often have to "pick their battles" when it comes to their students. I definitely admired this because the majority of their students were dealing with very difficult personal, family, or financial situations so they realized that these small things like attendance sometimes needed to take a back seat. Safety and health are their top priorities.

Management of Physical Environment

Going into my first day of clinicals I thought the classroom I would be observing would look much like other classrooms with the desks in rows and the teacher at the front lecturing in front of a white board. If I had known I would be observing the "digital wing" before going I would expect a line of desktop computers around the perimeter of a single room. Or if they used laptops they would still sit in rows, but with their laptops. None of these assumptions were correct.

The classroom was filled with beanbags, exercise balls, rolling chairs, rolling desks, and tilting stools scattered all around the room. Students may sit anywhere they like as long as they get their work done. They may sit with their friends as long as there isn't touching and they stay focused. It reminded me of when I was younger and we would do something similar when we had "reading time." They are also allowed to listen to music while they work. I like this classroom setup a lot because it is much more comfortable than rigid desks in rows. It is less formal and allows the students to relax while they work.

Because there are students at this school who are known to be trouble, security is high. Metal detectors are set up at each entrance. Purses and cell phones must be left outside the classroom and are given to supervisors when they walk into the school. If the metal detector goes off when a student walks through it they will be searched with a metal detector wand. Unfortunately, this process is necessary for the safety of the faculty and students.

Behavior and attendance are kept track of in a spreadsheet. The students are given a behavior grade. The only time a student receives a "bad grade" is if they were extremely disruptive or were very distracted, otherwise the teacher will simply say to quiet down or get back to work. While I was there they listened whenever a teacher told them to do something. Attendance is also kept track of. If a student misses school without letting their teacher know first their parent or guardian will be notified.

Diversity & Demographics

The Regional Alternative School was very diverse with all types of people from many different backgrounds. Both of the teachers in the digital wing were white women and the majority of the students were people of color, POC. The students were an equal balance of male and female.

Unfortunately, because this school is an alternative school that at risk students attend, the majority of the students were at or below the poverty line. Mrs. Elko mentioned a number somewhere in the 90 percent range. Many of the students' parents are in prison or are simply absent from their lives, which drastically harms their financial stability. Free lunches and snacks are provided for students because the school qualifies for governmental funding based on the students' financial situation. Because the students are often poor, the school makes sure to help students find jobs. They will even allow the students to fill out applications and call employers and businesses to find jobs.

The school is made up of 3-4 counties in the surrounding area. The school they would attend regularly must supply the students with transportation if they are outside of Bloomington. The conclusion I came to by the end of my clinicals is that the students at RAS work much harder than people think. A lot of them are caregivers for their family, have children, or jobs, etc. Most of them have been tossed into adult situations long before they should have had to have been. The Regional Alternative School acknowledges this and realizes that for these students, school is more of a secondary concern. Making sure they have life skills that can improve their lives and their future is vital. They make sure they have skills that will better their financial, emotional, mental, and health situations, which I greatly admire.

Because all 20 of my clinical hours were in the Regional Alternative School, I was able to get to know the students a bit--what their situations were like. They changed the way I view teaching. It is much more than spewing facts and test scores. It is about helping students navigate through some of the hardest years of their lives. The experiences I have had and have learned about have changed how I view the school system. I now know that I would never want to have a classroom that fits into the normal "formula." I want to accommodate students individually and have them find something they are passionate about. I want to help them find that thing that sparks a fire in their belly. The thing that motivates everything they do. I want to make sure they know they are safe and important. That they aren't just numbers, they're people. I greatly value the time I had at RAS.

Created By
Kate Whiteman

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