For middle and high school students with behavior problems, alternative education options are few in the Fountain Hills Unified School District.
Unruly students usually are suspended, and their parents must choose between home-schooling or sending their children to other school districts, said district superintendent Marian Hermie.
Now, though, a $180,000 grant from the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation will help students who have trouble learning in a traditional environment engage in "virtual e-learning," Hermie said.
A limited evening program is in place at Fountain Hills High School. District officials plan to add online classes for students to learn at their own pace, with a teacher available for help.
"We’re looking at some Web-based instructional programs that we can use for independent study," Hermie said. "They will provide extra learning and activities for the students to sharpen their skills in the areas of reading and math."
The grant money will pay for new software, 15 to 18 new computers and a teacher certified in special education and counseling. The program is scheduled to begin Oct. 1.
Annually, about 20 to 30 kids enroll in the current evening program.
"The regular academic day isn’t for every student," Hermie said. "Sometimes we see students acting out because they’re bored, because they achieve at a higher level and things don’t move quickly enough for them.
"Or," she said, "they’re lacking some skills and they’re acting out to cover for their feelings of inadequacy."
Initially, the expanded program will be offered during the academic day, in addition to the current night courses. District officials want to add programs for earning a General Educational Development diploma, as well as adult math and reading programs.
"We see potential growth for this to be able to offer programs for the community as well," Hermie said.
Tom Lawrence, principal of Fountain Hills Middle School, said it is time for the district to address the needs of students who can’t learn in traditional schools.
"As a last resort, after we’ve exhausted all options and that child can’t stay on campus, I think we’re morally obligated to provide them an alternative," Lawrence said. "It’s just going to be nice to keep those kids enrolled. While they may not be attending on campus . . . they will be benefitting from our curriculum and our programs."