July 20, 2018

Presenters at Webster School of Education Conference discuss ‘alternative’ schools

This year Sarah Ranney watched 5-year-olds practice active shooter drills. The principal of Lafayette Preparatory Academy (LPA) chose to incorporate school shootings like the Parkland shooting in the curriculum. LPA used the opportunity to focus on bullying instead of shielding the information from its students.

Ranney spoke at Webster’s School of Education Conference: ‘Equity in Education’ about alternative schools like LPA.

“I feel like my role as a school leader is to raise up the voices of the kids in my building and provide opportunities for them to engage in their own learning,” Ranney said.

Ranney and Sarah Christman spoke during “Equity in a time of Crises: Dealing with Challenging Incidents While Supporting All Our Students.” Christman is the executive director of The Soulard School, another alternative school.

Merriam-Webster defines ‘alternative schools’ as education systems that do not follow the traditional structure. These schools can be formed around certain philosophies, accomodate gifted programs or provide a less rigid environment for learning.

The session touched on the benefits of alternative schools, how they work and how these two specific schools deal with national crises.

Both Ranney and Christman said they believe children need to be heard more in society. The Soulard School enrolls children as young as toddlers, up to fifth grade. It teaches its second and third graders to debate from both sides of an argument.

“We’re working very hard to build that kind of protester mentality,” Christman said. “That kind of collective, how to get out there and put a team together to send out your message.”

These schools help students speak their messages throughdifferent mediums. Students are encouraged to participate during in-class discussions of topics ranging from bullying to race and poverty. Ranney said her students are more comfortable talking about these topics than parents in her community.

The Soulard School uses its location in Missouri’s historic neighborhood. They host parades during days like Earth Day as an innovative method of teaching students about important topics.

Christman said she is careful to not make her students pawns for any specific agenda. She urges the same from her teachers. Ranney agreed and specified what she looks for when hiring new teachers for LPA. 

“If you’re a white person, I’m looking to make sure you’re not coming to teach to the poor black kids with the white savior mentality,” Ranney said.

Kristin Carroll became a student at Webster after 20 years of teaching. Carroll taught at the Waldorf School of St. Louis, another progressive school like LPA and the Soulard School. She believes alternative education is the wave of the future

“We’re all really starting to think a little more outside the box because students don’t all come to us the same way anymore,” Carroll said.

Kelsey Donohue said she was excited for rising popularity of alternative schools. (Photo by Kristen Farrah)

Kelsey Donohue said she was excited for rising popularity of alternative schools. (Photo by Kristen Farrah)

She said students at progressive schools learn how to build relationships before they are taught how to put a pen to paper or read. Carroll believes her personal education would have tremendously benefited from the alternative education these types of schools offer.

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Webster who attended the ‘Equity in a time of Crises’ session. Donohue expresses her excitement for the future of alternative education despite her own major in secondary social studies education.

“It opens your mind … schools are places that are not just for academic needs, but the needs of the children in general,” Donohue said. “Some students cannot focus … sitting in a chair all the time, they need to be up and moving. Or maybe they need to feel comfortable in order to learn.”

The conversations during this session were based around personal experience rather than hard facts. The nature of the session opened discussions for both alternative education and firsthand experience of what that would feel like.

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