Between 25 and 30 students are currently enrolled at Cumberland Academy, better known as the "alternative school." The events that placed each of them there are varied. As Andrea Harrison, the school's therapeutic counselor, explains it, there is "no typical alternative school student."
Many of Cumberland's attendees are there at a parent's request, but they are mostly referrals from other schools. For whatever reason, these children weren't successful at their home school, said Harrison.
There has been a stigma attached to alternative schools in some people's minds, according to Harrison. She and Administrator Maryann Reed are struggling to get past that. "Once people come in and see, they understand," Harrison said.
Students may end up in an alternative school due to a pregnancy or expulsion from a regular public school. However, some have medical problems that cause them to miss an abnormally high number of days. Foreign students who do not speak English well can receive more personalized ESL (English Second Language) training in an alternative school setting.
The majority of the children have transferred from Northview High School, North Clay Middle School and Clay City Junior/Senior High, but they are accepted from outside the corporation as well.
Not all students fit easily into the public school system. Cumberland Academy, and schools like it, provide "an alternative way of teaching," in Harrison's words. She describes the approach as being "very individualized," which allows the staff and their rules to be "more flexible to accommodate certain circumstances."
For example, Reed says Cumberland's more lenient attendance policy allows more freedom with doctor's appointments. She also notes that the facility's low student-teacher ratio makes it possible to deal with all the students' needs on a personal basis.
And, Harrison says they do so on a very comprehensive level.
Rather than concentrating solely on academics, Harrison and her co-workers are "very closely related with every aspect of the student" including their emotions and behavior.
Besides doing regular school work, the Academy's students do community service projects and go on field trips.
"We try to be a link to the outside world," Harrison explained.
Reed said Cumberland Academy is "more of a satellite" than a school.
Still, Cumberland's scholars have a full-time school load, although the day is not divided into specific periods as it would be in a more traditional setting, said Harrison. Each teacher is responsible for one group of students, some of whom cross over with other teachers throughout the day.
Also, the work they do is "more self-paced," as Reed puts it. An individual can work on English one day and math the next, or take any other approach they choose. Their assignments are made in advance and they work on their own.
In Harrison's opinion, "the students seem to do well with that. We don't impart instruction because each student's needs are different."
There is a minimal amount of lecture from the teachers, Reed said. For the most part, the teachers, Jennifer Menser, Mark Rambis, Dan Miller and Amanda Sebastian, and instructional assistants, Anita Tilley, Amber Weddle and Tammy Harden, stand by and provide help when it is needed. Harrison works with every student "as needed."
A few of the girls travel by bus to the LEAAP Center in the afternoon, where they participate in the Even Start program. Even Start allows high school and GED students who have children to spend PACT (Parent and Child Together Time) in a supervised setting. LEAAP also provides daycare and preschool services while the parents are in class.
Clay Community Schools has offered alternative school for over seven years, but until last year, it was housed in the Forest Avenue United Methodist Church basement. In January 2003, Reed and her staff, including Administrative Secretary Linda Webster, moved to a new location behind North Clay Middle School.
The new structure, built using money from the CAPE (Community Alliances to Promote Education) grant, also houses the Adult Secondary Credit program.
Although the building does not have the facilities or special equipment needed for certain classes offered at the larger schools, it is far superior to the conditions at the church. Harrison also attributes the community's growing interest in Cumberland to its "higher visibility." Far more parents have shown interest in the program and a few service clubs have provided their support. The Clay County Breakfast Optimists have helped fund field trips.
Local businesses have gotten involved as well. Academy students did all the landscaping around the school under the direction of Cindy Stearley of Vision Quest Landscaping, who was very helpful, Reed said.
Through such activities the teens gain real world experiences and Harrison feels it gives them something to take pride in. Indeed, she sees the students at Cumberland Academy as "very territorial."
"The school has helped a lot of students," she says.