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Alternate Routes to High School Success

Is high school holding your ambitious student back? There are alternatives.

By GreatSchools Staff

Does your teenager feel hampered by the limited educational opportunities at your high school? Does she have trouble fitting in? There are alternatives.

Independent study, college or online courses, virtual high schools and special summer programs are just some of the ways to engage your restless high school student.

Independent Study

Does your teenager have a burning desire to study psychology, women's authors or computer science? Many high schools will allow students to pursue independent study for high school credit.

At Berkeley High School in California, for example, independent study is an option for any student. Tali Biale, now 21 years old and a student at Wesleyan University, followed an independent study program during her senior year at Berkeley High. She took some regular courses, some AP courses and created her own comparative religion course, all as part of independent study. "As a senior, I was interested in something different from a regular high school schedule and I had a lot of other interests I wanted to pursue. I heard rumors that independent study was for slackers who didn't want to be in school. But it was an amazing program for a whole range of kids. I took the same number of courses as regular high school students but instead of meeting in class every day, I met once a week with each teacher one-on-one for a half-hour or an hour and did my work independently. It was much more self-directed. It really prepared me well for college and got me used to managing my time."

Often high schools will offer regular classes in an independent study format if a student has a schedule conflict and a teacher is willing to meet with the student one-on-one. Some schools will allow students to pursue a particular subject they are interested in as an independent study, if the course is not offered at the school. Check with your high school to find out what independent study options are offered.

Advanced Placement

Many high schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which are college-level courses offered at high schools. These courses are taught by AP-trained high school teachers who follow course guidelines and curriculum developed by the College Board. Students can also take AP courses through independent study, and some states sponsor online AP courses. Courses are available through high schools at no cost but students who want to receive college credit must take and pass an AP exam, which costs $82. Financial aid is available. There are 37 AP courses available in a variety of subjects. AP began offering Chinese and Japanese for the first time in 2006. Currently, 16,000 schools offer AP courses. For information on AP, check the AP section of the College Board Web site.

International Baccalaureate

Some high schools offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which is a rigorous two-year pre-university program. Students who successfully complete the IB exams at the end of the program receive an IB diploma, which is accepted by universities in more than 100 countries.

Comments from readers

"My son is Very ADHD. I recently moved to New Jersey and his new guidance counselor seems to know more then anyone I spoke to in his middle schools in Florida. He is in 9th grade this year and finally, someone WANTS to know if he's classified and has he had an IEP or a 504. The two schools he went to in Florida did NOT want to deal with it. I never let a Dr. put him on meds until his 7th grade year. To me, they seemed to make him worse, not better. When he was small, he was so out of control that when I brought him to a doctor appointment, the staff would take us in to see the doctor in front of 5 patients, who were ahead of us to see the doctor. LOLOLOL At this point, I have been to see the guidance counselor twice and he only started school two weeks ago. He is 15 yrs old, 6'3" and refusing to go to school. I went in to sign a release for the school to get his file from the counselors and doctors he was seeing in Florida. Does anyone know of any kind of alternative schools ! in New Jersey, that take kids BEFORE they are 16?? I also had this problem in FL. I guess they want to wait until the child CAN actually quit school before they give us any resources. As it is, I am wondering when they are going to come here with handcuffs and take ME away. "
"is anyone know for independent tutors for 11th grader math & chemistry please? for el cerrito el sobrante,CA. Thanks "
"My oldest daughter age 16 is struggling in Highschool. She seems to have poor time management and lack of focus. She goes to a school were it seems like the staff members are training inmates. I don't know what to do before it is too late for her to get back on track. Im considering alternative school, but I dont want her to think she is being punished. What should I do not to loose my daughter all together."
"our alternative to public high school is a charter school.there are many in all states,my teenager was spinninning her wheels and wasnt learning much.teachers didnt seem to care,and they were loading her down with projects instead of teaching.grades were getting worse no time to breath just project after project.then we removed our child from diamond ranch hs,then enrolled her in a charter school.san gabriel vly school district has many locations in so cal area.we have one close to home,req attendance 2 hrs a week earning more credits than dia rnch will grad much sooner year round one on one instuction.straight a-s now. public schools and our state and some teachers are failing,they only care about the revinue.people wake up!"
"iam looking for a good shool for my son he has adhd and lead paint posing he is in the 10 gradebut he is 19 years old the school that he is in is ok but it is in a bad part town and iam trying to pull him away from his friends that go there because some of the kids is not trying to do nothing and they are holding the other kids back like my son so this s why iam looking for a good school iam not going to give up on himand he is not going to give up."
"How can you help your child when they are behind or they don't seem have a good understand in some courses, especially math."
"what about kids forced to be in foundations cause its easier for the school to meet their requirements! I just figured it out. Not special ed - just LD - only getting IEP reading services not math - and in foundations and bored - took a gifted summer program with approved from Professor Lamella at Middlesex to encourage girls math/scinece/engineering - my daughter excelled - got confidence and learned her strenghts and weaknesses - zoned during the physics lessson but can apply what she learned came up with the winning desgn and they built it from scratch - came in 2nd place in juding - presented it for the group in front of at least 300 people! no one knew she was a SPED. Oh LD Oh a nice kid! I asked the foundations math teacher to help Jen where she may struggle - like have her stay if she gets 6 wrong out of 12 - help a tutor in the school come up with a plan to get her ready for the HESPA - to discuss with Jen the 'zero' for a homework assignment she received - to find out why her weekly reports say Jen is doing fine and the website you go to says she has a 'C' - to find out what on-line program they use so I can check it out. This was the response I got: 'Mrs. Cochrane, I have spoken with the my supervisor, the head of the Mathematics Department, about your request for supplies to use to prepare for the HSPA during the sophomore year. She has given me 2 copies of a resource for 'Early Preparation' which could be done in the 10th grade. Please do not write in the books, instead, use them as guides for the material to cover. One copy is for Jen and the other copy is for whoever tutors her. I've also included a copy of the answer key. Please return all 3 soft cover books to me in June 2009. I will have the 3 books in the front office with your name on them for pick up. A plan to prepare for the HSPA.....turn to page i through page iv. These are the topics to focus on. If a weakness shows up, spend additional time in that area. I've found that a little bit of help when you need it goes a long way. I was happy to see that the comments I forwarded to Mrs. Bitondo were included in the weekly updates you receive from her. Since you've included Jen's grades from Home Plus, I know that you have the tools you need to log on and keep abreast of Jen's progress. She's doing well. Glad I could help you. I'll send Mary Bitondo this week's update on Friday which she will forward on to you. Sue Whitt' does this fall under the 10th Amendment ? Why can't she speak to me - call - me - help my daughter? "
"This is valuable information and it did give more options for my high school student. Thanks for your help."
"As a college consultant, I assist students with college selection and the college admission process, but NOLS is a great program that I recommend to some students who may not be quite ready for college or others who may want to do something different first. It is especially good for those interested in the outdoors. They can get college credit for some outstanding outdoor leadership courses. Some of the courses are during the summer or school year and others are a semester long."