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TN City Takes Alternative Approach to Alternative School

Johnson City schools is transitioning its approach to alternative education for students having trouble in school - offering them a source of help instead of a dead-end. (Paradox 56/flickr)
Johnson City schools is transitioning its approach to alternative education for students having trouble in school - offering them a source of help instead of a dead-end. (Paradox 56/flickr)
July 24, 2017

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -- For years, being sent to an alternative school meant a dead end for students in Tennessee and across the nation. But at least one school system in the state wants to change that.

Johnson City is transitioning their Alternative Center into the Topper Academy. In addition to a new name, Dr. David Timbs, supervisor of secondary and instructional technology with the school system, said educators will focus on what led to students' difficulties functioning in traditional schools in the first place; and will then help them return to their peers.

"Unlike a punitive approach to alternative education, the approach that we're going to begin taking now is to help them understand and make sense and get the supports that they need - both social, emotional and academic,” Timbs said.

Topper Academy recognizes the role of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, in a child's education. Numerous bodies of research have found a direct correlation to childhood stresses and academic performance. Timbs said the full program will be developed at Topper Academy within the next 18 months.

He said the city's goal is for Topper Academy to be a temporary stop for students.

"We want it to be not a permanent destination,” Timbs said. "So many students in the past saw this as a dead-end placement and really did not have a lot of intrinsic motivation to work themselves back into the regular school population."

Adverse Childhood Experiences include abuse by a caregiver, exposure to addiction, domestic violence, loss of a parent and neglect.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN