Schools and At-Risk Students Continuation Classes Term Paper

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¶ … Schools & at-Risk Students

Continuation Classes for at-Risk Students

Many students at the high school level today find it a struggle to perform well in the traditional classroom setting. For various and diverse reasons, the traditional school structure does not work well for certain students - some who are at-risk, others who have going foul of the law or have become involved with substance abuse issues, and still others who are plainly ill-suited by nature to conventional structure. In search of a remedy for that situation, school districts across the United States have over the past few decades established "continuation" or "alternative" educational settings. Often these settings provide an independent study format - with support and guidance by qualified teachers and staff - and students attending the continuation schools become recipients of a high school diploma, which is the very minimum requirement in the 21st Century economy.

This paper reviews and examines the history and challenges of continuation school programs, defining and identifying what works, what does not work, and why the continuation concept is appropriate for at-risk youth.

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The at-risk student in today's educational environment is one who likely comes from a "dangerous neighborhood," according to an article in the American School Board Journal (Hardy, 2007). Dangerous in this context might mean a high-crime area, or an area heavily influenced by street gang activities. The at-risk student may live though some of the social dangers that are identified with a poverty-ridden environment, where inadequate housing is the norm and poor nutrition and family stress are every day realities. at-risk basically means that there is a risk that the student may potentially drop out of school, or become involved in inappropriate behaviors (illegal drug usage, alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, gang violence or psychological problems like depression), and somehow not fit in to the mainstream of student communities. There is an impression - not often true - that continuation schools are places where students who have been kicked out of high schools go because they are incorrigible or on drugs or into violence. That may be true in some cases, but the positive stories of students who are or were caught in tough social and family situations perhaps don't get told often enough.

The article by Hardy zeros in on a successful continuation program in the George Washington Community School in Indianapolis. Even though Hardy admits that "schools alone cannot solve the problems of at-risk children whose families are mired in poverty," he points out that the George Washingtons School has put together a staff of teachers and professionals "that will not accept failure." think if I would have been at a different school, I would have dropped out by now," said Leonardo Salinas, 17 years old, a graduate of George Washington who came to the school as an at-risk student. He came from a low-income family and had dropped out of regular high school so he could work a job that helped support his family. His working hours begin at 3:00 P.M., and go to midnight. "By the time I got home," he told Hardy for the article, "I'm tired. I just want to eat some cereal and go to bed." But having the flexibility to attend the continuation school at hours convenient to his own schedule allowed Salinas to not only get his high school degree, but to finish 10th in a class of 65.

Now, following graduation from George Washington continuation school, Salinas has been offered a $30,000 scholarship and has been accepted at 10 colleges. "They just kept pushing and pushing," Salinas said of his teachers, who motivated him and were persistent with him. And hence, he is no longer at risk.

Another student, Britney Keller, was at-risk and had to drop out of high school to help her mother; her mother suffered an "ectopic pregnancy" and so Britney stayed home to help her mom with the newborn and his 1-year-old brother. "At one point," Britney was quoted as saying in the article, "I even gave up." She was in sixth grade when she had to leave school to help her mom survive. By May 2007, Britney had turned 18 and was a graduate of George Washington with a 3.8 GPA - and she was a member of the National Honor Society.

So one can see there are positive stories associated with at-risk students - that is, when quality continuation programs are in place to assist those students. In the case of Britney, she was raised in a community where only 5% of adults in the surrounding neighborhood have college educations; and moreover, 89% of students at George Washington continuation school qualify for subsidized lunches, and indication of the extreme poverty in the area - and an environment that clearly produces at-risk students looking for an opportunity to raise themselves up out of the legacy of failure.

The National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) explains that at-risk students' "...skills, knowledge, motivation and/or academic ability are significantly below those of the 'typical' student in the...curriculum in which they are enrolled" (Walsh, 2006). In addition, Walsh, of Iowa State University, states that at-risk students are also likely to display characteristics like "...low academic self-concept, unrealistic grade and career expectations..."

Beyond that, at-risk students also are noted for having "...unfocused career objectives, extrinsic motivation, external locus of control. Low self-efficacy, inadequate study skills..." along with a personal history that includes "passive learning" and a misinformed understanding that learning is about memorizing, not solving problems or seeking answers to issues. Moreover, Walsh continues, at-risk students may simply have made poor choices or decisions that had a negative impact on their learning experiences; at-risk students are not necessarily teenagers, either, Walks explains. Indeed they may be adults who are attempting to return to the academic environment after a number of years of absence, and are on shaky ground as to their own self-esteem and belief systems. at-risk students may also be people with physical limitations, or with emotional or academic limitations who are motivated but not sophisticated in the ways and means of learning in a structured situation.

The NACADA report suggests that when at-risk students attend continuation schools, there should be "specially designed courses" for them which focus on "critical thinking skills," a strategy for evaluating personal and academic goals, and a strategy (uniquely drawn up for each specific individual) to meet those goals.


The independent study format, known most often as "continuation" school, has been in place in the Arlington, Virginia public school system since 1929, to one degree or another. According to the Arlington Public Schools Web pages, students in the High School Continuation Program are ultimately responsible for the same course requirements - numbers of credits and standards of learning (SOL) assessment verification - as the students in the "comprehensive high schools" (

The Arlington school officials believe that "given appropriate supports and opportunities," all students have the ability to learn. Some students "learn differently," however, yet they still yearn to succeed. And hence, in the Arlington continuation setting over the past 78 years, including the continuations schools "Arlington Mill" and "Langston," students have been offered a chance to gain six to seven credits per year in a "flexible" setting. The Arlington school district calls their continuation program a "Small and caring learning community" that provides a "safety net for students who face challenges completing their education." It is also a "gateway" for those students who have dropped out or been shown the door - for any reason - to return to the conventional school setting. "Balancing life's demands" for a teenager can be troublesome and intimidating, the Arlington school authorities explain, and hence for some teens, continuation school is a wonderful opportunity.

There are some requirements that have been set up by Arlington's continuation programs: students must be 16 years of age; they must pay a certain minimum fee to enroll; they may be referred by the school, by themselves, or by the courts.

While Virginia's continuation program dates back to 1929, the program of continuation education in California dates back to 1919, according to an article in Introduction to Continuation Education. There are over 550 continuation schools in California, according to the article, and the enrollment of students in continuation high schools adds up to about 10% of all California high school students.

In California, continuation programs are limited to schools with large populations, and they provide a "broad-based curriculum" which includes "personalized instruction; a work-study program; and intensive counseling, guidance, placement, and follow-up services." Beyond just getting a diploma, the California continuation education program strives to have students become "...productive persons," to give them a feeling of "self-worth, self-confidence, and personal satisfaction." Also, the article expresses the need for continuation graduates to develop a "tolerance and understanding" of a diversity of ideas and attitudes outside of their own.

Back in 1919, there were only four California school districts that had a continuation… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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