Closer Connections: Standards-Based Instruction, Community Partnerships and a Intensive Literacy Intervention Program All Work to Make El Puente Community School in Santa Barbara Successful

Article excerpt

The challenge for alternative schools is similar throughout the state: How do you provide the social and emotional support needed by young people who have had major problems in the regular school system, while at the same time providing a sound academic program that deals with the deficits in their learning and lack of classroom success? And how do you do this while meeting rigorous new state standards, including the High School Exit Exam?

There are no easy answers. In Santa Barbara, we have found that community partnerships have helped us in many important ways reach our mission of respect, reconnection and readiness. We have also found ways to restructure our educational delivery system to better meet the evolving needs of our students.

Who we are

First, some background: El Puente Community School - Santa Barbara is an alternative school within the Santa Barbara County Education Office whose purpose is to serve at-risk students from grades seven through 12 who have had problems as a result of their behavior in the regular school system, including truancy, drug or alcohol abuse, anger, fighting or expulsion.

Our county superintendent, Bill Cirone, has provided the leadership needed to seek community support and services for the campus. He knows the difficulty parents face when their child is referred to an alternative school and he wants the experience to be safe, healthy and successful. The goal is to help young people learn to accept responsibility for their actions and learn to make good decisions. Superintendent Cirone has inspired us to do as much as we possibly can to help each student meet his or her rehabilitation plan in a safe and positive school environment.

Respect, reconnection and readiness

EPSB's mission is based on three fundamental principles: respect, reconnection and readiness. These principles are stated clearly and also dictate how we operate our schools. Our first responsibility is to provide all the students with a safe school. When students enroll, they are asked to sign and honor the school's Neutral Territory Agreement. It ensures their commitment to keep the school safe.

Respect and responsibility are expectations that must be met by all students and staff. Our local law enforcement agencies are constantly available to the students and staff, and can be seen on our campus on a daily basis. The District Attorney's Truancy Program has been instrumental in helping to curb truancy at our school site. The entire staff receives ongoing training in safety and identification of such high-risk behaviors as anger, social misconduct disorders, drug and alcohol use, depression and emotional or physical abuse.

In addition, all teacher assistants are trained in conflict mediation. They are asked to mediate conflicts among students on a daily basis. Once students are able to agree to mediation, they are asked to sign a mediation contract and honor the terms.

Community support

A key ingredient to our ability to help our students has been partnerships, created through a variety of grants and donations in connection with an array of community-based agencies. These partnerships have enabled us to help our students deal with sobriety and other emotional and behavioral needs, while also helping their families understand that their children need the support of the school and the community.

One of our most important partners is the Council of Drug and Alcohol Fighting Back Program, which provides two full-time counselors known as Youth Services Specialists. They provide individual, group, crisis and family counseling for all the students, and they help coordinate other agencies to come to school to provide more specific services. Youth Services Specialists also provide an after-school drug and alcohol treatment program using acupuncture and counseling at the Daniel Bryant Treatment Center. …