What is an Alternative Special Education Graduation Program, Anyway?


Lately I’ve come to realize that even my own coworkers have no idea what I do at our school. I coordinate an alternative graduation program for students with special needs called Late Afternoon School. Maybe our name throws them off because our hours are from 9:30 am – 5:00 pm and a good portion of my teaching happens during the regular school day. Maybe it’s because it’s easy to abbreviate the name to L.A. School, so people think we are some fancy California-style program. Believe me, Warren County, Tennessee is a long way from L.A. in more than one regard. But the confusion probably comes from the variety of individualized ways we meet student needs. If you have learned about one student’s services from the Late Afternoon School, then you have learned about exactly one possible service model from Late Afternoon School.

I thought it might be time for a post that describes my job to help anyone who wonders what it means to teach in an alternative special education graduation program. But remember that, like my student’s schedules themselves, all graduation initiatives are unique because all schools are unique.

L.A. School was the brainchild of my wonderfully creative former Special Education Coordinator, and created through an initial start-up grant from our state Department of Education, with the goal of improving our county’s graduation rate for students with special education needs. Like most drop-out prevention initiatives, those of us who developed L.A. School found that a one-size-fits-all program cannot address the diverse needs of students at-risk for dropping out of school or not earning a diploma. Each student has a different reason for having difficulty with graduation, so the only effective program is one that provides individualized solutions.

Some examples of the services we provide:

  • credit recovery after school and during the summer for students who have fallen significantly behind in credit completion
  • after school tutoring for students whose current failing grades in general education classes will put them at-risk for not meeting diploma requirements
  • direct courses offered in the L.A. School classroom for students who have not been successful in general education classes and need a small group instructional alternative
  • transitional home-to-school services for students who have missed many days of school due to illness, hospitalization, or pregnancy/childbirth
  • after school and summer session course offerings for students who have not been successful in the general education curriculum
  • blended learning options and alternative schedules for students with mental or physical illnesses who can only attend school an abbreviated day
  • block scheduled classes for students who have transferred mid-year from other school systems or have returned to school after dropping out, and are at-risk for losing core credits
  • coursework offered for students who want to get ahead in credit completion so that they can promote to a higher grade or make room in their schedules for a change in college or career pathway, to keep them motivated to stay in school

The program tailors the student’s schedule to his or her individualized needs. Some students attend the regular school day, from 7:45 am to 2:45 pm, and then attend additional sessions in L.A. School after school or in the summer. Other students have alternative schedules that take advantage of our late afternoon hours and might, for example, attend school from 10:30 am to 5:00 pm. Another group of students take blended learning courses, where they complete some school work online from home and then attend school in the afternoons and summers for support and direct instruction. The schedule is determined by the student’s personal goals, the IEP process, and Tennessee diploma requirements.

In addition to my K – 12 general special education certificate, I’m certified to teach to secondary English and secondary Mathematics, so I spend my teaching hours in direct Math and English instruction, tutoring a variety of subjects, overseeing students completing online coursework, and coordinating transition services. Other teachers who work with us have certifications in Science, History, and other subjects, and can deliver instruction for students who need those credits or support.

And if next year is like every other year so far, we will find new models to address new needs for new students. The fun of it all is trying to meet challenges as they come along.


4 thoughts on “What is an Alternative Special Education Graduation Program, Anyway?

  1. Great descriptive road map of your alternative program. Although the program may have originated when a former SPED Supervisor wrote a grant, it’s because of your efforts that the program has been so successful!


    • But it means so much to have leaders who keep up with current research, care about innovative solutions, and have enough faith in teachers to give them some autonomy for program development.


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