By: Jawara Johnson, Parent Coordinator, Aspirations Diploma Plus High School; and Erin Santana, Program Director, The Child Center of NY at ADPHS
Are you looking at your child’s first semester report card concerned that they may be falling behind in high school? There are many alternative high school options that are available to your child that will still enable them to earn a high school diploma.
Transfer high schools operate on a trimester schedule, which can allow your child to earn more credits than they could earn in a regular year of traditional high school and make up for lost time. Young Adult Borough Centers (YABCs) provide trimesters as well as evening classes so that students can work or fulfill other obligations during the day. Both transfer high schools and YABCs often offer extra supports, such as advocate counselors, paid internships and free child care for parenting students.
Transferring your child to another high school can be a daunting process. Here are some steps you can take to ensure your child’s success through this process:
1. BE INVOLVED: Switching high schools is a major decision to make, and transfer schools are often hesitant to accept a student whose parents do not seem on board. Do not just send your child to handle the process on their own. While they should of course be active participants in their education, they also need your support. Alternative schools are already struggling to help catch students up; school staff will be looking for you to engage as active partners in getting your child to graduation.
2. Know what your child needs to graduate: New York State requires 44 credits and 5 Regents exams. However, any 44 credits will not do. They must be distributed across the main subject areas: 8 English, 8 Social Studies, 6 Math, 6 Science, 6 non-English Language, 4 Physical Education, 1 Health, 2 Arts, and 3 Electives. They must pass exams in English, Math, Science, U.S. History and Global History (with some exceptions). In general, students are expected to accumulate around 11 credits a year to graduate in 4 years. How many years has your child been in high school already? Compare this to how many credits they have to determine how much they need to catch up
3. Consider your child’s specific needs: What factors may be negatively impacting your child’s education? Peers? Child care? Financial strain? School structure? Talk to your child about what is going on and seek out a program that will address these needs. Be honest with school staff about your child’s needs so you can determine the best spot for them. If the new school is not a good fit you may end up having to transfer them again, or worse. When seeking out new programs ask what neighborhood most other students come from, ask if there is free child care; ask if there are paid internships; ask what sort of rules and disciplinary policies are in place. Every school is unique and your child deserves the one that is right for them.
4. Be clear about what academic supports your child is legally entitled to: Does your child have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)? Are they an English Language Learner (ELL)? If so, they may require certain kinds of classes that are not offered at every school. Make sure to ask their current guidance counselor if they have IEP or ELL designations, and ask alternative programs if they can offer the supports your child needs.
5. Connect with their current guidance counselor: It can be very difficult to correctly read a student’s transcript without proper training. Insist upon meeting with your child’s current guidance counselor. Ask how long they will need to graduate and what alternative programs they might recommend. Guidance counselors from different schools are in touch with one another and can advocate for your child if you make it known that you are interested in a transfer.
6. Get your documents in order: Obtain several copies of your child’s most recent transcript. You may also need copies of documents regarding their attendance and disciplinary record. Make extra copies of their immunization records, birth certificate, as well as at least two proofs of address, such as a paystub, lease or gas or electric bill. Having all of these documents photocopied and organized will speed up your progress with applying to new schools.
7. Are you the legal guardian?: If you are not a parent listed on the birth certificate, make sure to have a notarized document or other legal proof that you can enroll the child in school.
8. Apply to more than one school: Alternative schools generally select new students by principal’s discretion. This means that the principal and her staff ultimately decide who is accepted; there is no official cut off age or credits (Exceptions: very few programs service students who are under 16 years old; YABCs service students who are at least 17 years old and have at least 17.5 credits). Applying to only one school significantly decreases your child’s chances of being accepted for a transfer.
9. Follow up & take notes: At certain times of year schools are inundated with applicants. When you apply find out whom the best contact is for enrollment decisions. Contact this person at least once a week until you get a final decision. Record all contact with various schools so you do not lose track of where you have applied and what the status of your child’s applications are.
10. Know that acceptance is not the end: When your child is accepted your work has only begun. Prioritize building strong relationships with school staff during your child’s first month at a new school. Introduce yourself to the Parent Coordinator, Guidance Counselors and key Administrators. Check in with school staff at least once a week to make sure your child is attending and adjusting well to the new setting and that all necessary paperwork has been processed. After a few weeks come in for a meeting to make sure all is well. Catching any issues or concerns as early as possible will ensure that your child is finally on the path to success.