Although outcomes for alternative schools may be mixed, it is generally agreed that counseling, therapy, group work, case management, and family-community involvement have been credited in some effective programs. This study examined program evaluations from 1994-1999 for an alternative school for chronically disruptive students (599 students, ages 9-22) that was funded by a state grant to assure safer, drug-free public schools. School-based mental health services were mandated by the grant. Annual program evaluations and positive outcomes were necessary for continued funding by the state. Psychosocial (self-esteem, depression, locus of control, and life skills) and educational outcomes (grade point averages and attendance) were examined at entry and exit. In addition, 90- and 180-day follow-ups were conducted for educational outcomes. Although educational outcomes improved during assignment to the alternative school (greater than 70% passing), in the 90- and 180-day follow-ups student grade point averages improved but were not passing. Notably, student dropout for alternative students was an average of 8% 180 days after the assignment compared to the school district's 45% dropout rate. The focus of this study was to determine whether the alternative school was a viable family-community intervention for improving social functioning and educational achievement for chronically disruptive students, whether these interventions were effective in improving school safety, and whether the program missions were consistently accomplished during the five years of implementation and one year follow-up based on the program evaluations.
Key Words: school-based mental health services, program evaluation, chronically disruptive students, family-community interventions, replication studies
School-based mental health services were first introduced in the early 1980s, coinciding with the development of school-based health centers. Just as the health centers allow students to receive medical care when needed, the mental health services permit students to receive clinical services as needed (Weist & Christodulu, 2000). The application of these programs took on new significance in the 1990s in alternative education when public awareness increased about the presence of violence, weapons, drugs, and alcohol at school. This forced many school districts to consider alternative forms of education for students deemed "chronically disruptive."
As early as 1975, "chronically disruptive students" was a phrase invented by educators with the hope that interventions could be more exact or useful (Miller & D'Alonzo, 1975). At that time, the label, "chronically disruptive" was equated with delinquency, and schools focused on vocational training (Miller, 1975). Over the next three years, the term became synonymous with emotional disabilities (ED). Interventions were designed to raise the awareness of the importance of education for children and teacher training (Smith, 1979; Smith, 1978). Characteristics of "chronically disruptive students" included being rebellious, defying rules, and demonstrating poor academics. The harmful effects of suspension were discussed and appropriate educational interventions were recognized. In 1979, alternative educational programs were first mentioned as a viable educational setting. The alternative program offered a highly structured, closely supervised, and appropriately staffed educational method for schools having difficulty coping with disruptive students (Marien, 1980; Johnson, 1979; Smith, 1979).
In the early 1980s, the label "chronically disruptive students" continued to be equated to emotionally and behaviorally disturbed students (Birney, 1981). Even so, educators were beginning to understand that school disruption had many causes and students had varied needs. Therefore, an ecological or systems approach was necessary, and as a result, …