Alternative education programs helping Maine students learn

The president of Alternative Education Association of Maine estimates about 80 percent of schools have alternative learning programs.

MAINE, USA — Alternative education puts a focus on social and emotional wellbeing for students and has grown in popularity after the pandemic showed many educators there is no “right” way to education.

“Alternative ed in Maine comes in many shapes and sizes,” Lenny Holmes, educator and president of the Alternative Education Association of Maine, said.

Holmes estimates about 80 percent of high schools across the state have some type of alternative education program.

Summit Academy in Houlton is a high school dedicated to alternative education that serves three districts in the area. The school provides a different approach to education that puts more focus on social and emotional needs. The school has 30 students and five staff members.

“That ratio makes it so we know and understand our kids,” Dawn Matthews, a teacher at Summit Academy, said.

That’s a common trend for many programs throughout the state that focus on making connections.

“I try to take the approach of, if every one of them, if that were my son or daughter sitting across,” Holmes said.

There are multiple reasons students may choose this education path rather than traditional school. Challenges may stem from anxiety, feeling lost in a larger school setting, and or not feeling connecting to the material in a traditional classroom setting.

The pandemic may have brought awareness to different learning methods, but schools in Brewer have created an online program called “Nu Program” for high school and middle school students.

“We discovered that there were some really good things about the online learning for certain kids,” Renita Ward-Downer, Brewer School District’s director of instruction, said. “They [some students] really thrived with that. They liked learning at their own pace and setting up their own schedule.”

Not all alternative programs look the same, but they have the same mission: to help students succeed.

Holmes said the association is next exploring inequities in alternative education programs in Maine and solutions so all students have equal access.

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