Colonial IU 20: Alternative School Connects Students with Home Districts

 Sometimes, students who trail in school act out in frustration and land themselves in trouble. While they’re suspended or isolated from the classroom, they fall behind even farther. It’s a vicious circle that can slow down a child’s and a school’s overall academic progress. 

In the early 2000s, Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 led many member districts in studying the feasibility of a new kind of alternative school. The consortium built the state-of-the-art Colonial Academy, to meet the intertwined academic, social, and emotional needs of students with a range of specialized needs.

At Colonial Academy, students requiring alternative education, autistic support, emotional support, and life skills get rigorous schooling, pegged to the curriculums of their home schools. All classrooms house mental health technicians with bachelor’s degrees. Clinicians with master’s degrees provide help with such needs as health care and emotional health care – “whatever their needs that may be impeding their ability to learn,” says Dr. Jan Cunningham, director of Resolve Behavioral Health Services at Colonial IU.

Students are also immersed in art, music, and other outlets for creativity. Through culinary arts and construction and landscaping programs, they learn job skills and can practice them in real workplaces. Students are encouraged to stay connected with activities at their home schools, and they’re not even separated from each other.

“It’s not unusual to see our alternative education students working very hard on the prom for our special education students,” says Cunningham.

Families are not forgotten, either. They get help accessing services to meet their basic needs, from food to bedding, and they receive regular updates on their children’s progress.

Colonial Academy educates about 320 students at a time, and up to 500 in the course of the school year. Many students make it their goal to follow the rules and return to their home schools as soon as possible, where they can become contributing members of their school communities and graduate with their classes.

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