What Are Alternative Schools?

By Omar Jawdat, Blog Intern

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An alternative school refers to schools in which the learning experience for students attending is not the same as traditional schools. Their methods and systems satisfy different requirements, which are intended for students who have trouble learning in a traditional classroom, need extra support/guidance, have difficult life circumstances, social and behavioral difficulties, or wish to focus on specific areas of study.  

Examples of Alternative Schools:

  • Charter schools are tuition free schools that are open to all students. They are often operated independently from the traditional school district, and provide ‘high quality instruction from teachers who have the autonomy to design a classroom that fits their students' needs. They are led by dynamic principals who have the flexibility to create a school culture that fosters student performance and parent satisfaction’.   

  • Magnet Schools operate within public schools. They consist of free public elementary or secondary schools of choice. Magnet schools provide specialized, enhanced training and teaching for students in specific subjects of interest. These range from STEM programs (science, technology, engineering, math), to performing arts, leadership, and world language programs. 

  • Juvenile court schools offer public education for juvenile offenders coming from regional youth facilities, camps, homes, or day centers. The purpose of juvenile court schools are to provide quality learning opportunities in order to complete a course of studies for a high school diploma/GED. Students in the state of California are required to take public education assessments such as the California High School Exit Examination and the Standardized Testing and Reporting Program. Students from the ages of 16 to 18 ‘who are not exempt from compulsory school attendance are required to continue their public education. These students are provided planning and transition services critical to a successful transfer back to a public school.’   

How Is The Learning Experience Different in Alternative Schools?

Alternative schools differ from traditional schools in many ways. This can look like smaller class sizes, which allow teachers to provide more individual attention to students, which is tailored to meet specific student needs. Students in alternative schools also have access to more flexible schedules and graduation requirements. Classes could be attended at night if students have jobs or children. Flexible graduation requirements pertains to students having the opportunity to have more choices in the classes they take, instead of having to take one math, one English, and one science class, etc., in order for students to focus on a particular subject of interest to pursue in the future. In addition to academic needs, alternative schools also provide additional resources that cater to emotional, social, and mental needs of a student.  

Words Alive’s Adolescent Book Group Program

Words Alive’s Adolescent Book Group Program is designed to engage teens attending alternative schools, or those facing extraordinary circumstances, by bringing books alive for students through conversation, writing, and projects. Words Alive places caring adults in the classroom to help support teens as they explore how to make connections between what they are reading and the world around them. 






Stories, Stress, & Schools: Why Summoning Books Can Help Students' Mental Health

By Anna Lyczmanenko

This piece was originally posted here as part of the Harry Potter Alliance's Accio Books series, exploring issues related to literacy, education, and libraries. To find out more about Accio Books and how Words Alive is involved, visit

Today’s students have a lot to deal with, both in the classroom and out. Social anxiety, depression, abuse, bullying, eating disorders, and pressure to perform are issues that many young people, from elementary school through college, face every day. When things come to a head and students find themselves in crisis, many may feel that they do not have someone to confide in or don’t know who to turn to for help. This scenario is shockingly common: according to the Department of Health and Human Services, most children with a mental illness do not receive the treatment they need.

Tackling the issue of student mental health has proven to be a difficult task, even in states with funds and programs dedicated to helping children and young adults with mental health concerns. Fortunately, there are efforts to widen the conversation about mental illness and remove the stigma. As a result, discussions around youth mental health have started to enter the mainstream. This growing conversation is occurring on television, in state and national legislatures, but also at a level closer to home for kids – at school.

Young people spend a great deal of time at school, which means that schools have an opportunity to be a great resource for young people dealing with mental illness. The desire to help students has generated movements amongst teachers, school staff members, and students themselves to create programs, petitions, and resources around mental health. Many HPA chapters have been active in creating these campaigns: whether raising money for direct service organizations, hosting “de-stress” events on college campuses, or speaking out about their own experiences, wizard activists around the world are working with their schools to remove the stigma around mental illness and seeking help. This work could not be more vital. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five teens between the ages of 13 to 18 is at risk of a severe mental disorder.

At the elementary level, states and teachers have gotten together to mitigate mental health issues for students as they develop. In Minnesota, students can receive mental health treatment in school, removing the barriers like transportation, insurance coverage, and lengthy wait times for appointments. As a result, more students are receiving the help they need and seeing jumps in their attendance and academic performance. Other states, like California and Washington, are also looking at what schools can do to help - and that’s where wizard activists come in.

It’s no secret that reading can improve your mental health by increasing empathy, reducing stress, and even improving sleep. By making sure that young people around the world have access to books, Accio Books helps provide a vital mental health resource. Books can be powerful therapy on their own, and even more helpful when they explicitly tackle mental health and mental illness. This year for Accio Books, we have partnered with Words Alive, which means that wizard activists will help 5,000 young people and their families have access to the power of story.

Through Accio Books, wizard activists are also helping to support some of their community’s mental health first responders: librarians. Because children and teens are unlikely to be receiving the treatment they need, it’s vital that youth-serving agencies like libraries have training to recognize and support young people living with mental illness. Library staff often provide more than book recommendations, serving as a resource for everything from finding substance abuse support programs to navigating the health system. Assuring that libraries have the funding they need to keep their doors open and their staff well-trained is essential. That’s why wizard activists contacted Congress 868 times last year to support funding libraries, and that’s why we’ll do it again on May 1st and 2nd for National Library Legislative Day.

Through Accio Books, teachers, afterschool providers, library staff, students and other wizard activists are working together to increase young people’s access to books - which means we’re providing more resources for young people in need of the therapeutic benefits of reading great stories. This work, along with awareness-raising, outreach, and collaboration of services is essential to helping and empowering students living with mental illness. So be sure to visit our Accio Books headquarters to donate books, take action for libraries, become a Prefect, or even donate to support the campaign. You never know whose life your favorite stories will change.

Anna Lyczmanenko is a part Hufflepuff/part Gryffindor with a love of peanut butter, and talking about healthcare. She is the Mental Health Campaigns Researcher for the Harry Potter Alliance.