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Granite Academy brings new approach to alternative education in - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Granite Academy brings new approach to alternative education in Barre

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BARRE, Vt. -

As we saw across the state last year, local school budgets have proven hard to pass lately.

And high special education spending is often closely scrutinized.

In Barre, educators are re-thinking traditional ways of teaching kids to save money while providing students with the tools that they need.

Spaulding has a total budget of $12.2 million with $3 million for special education. There are 757 students at the high school. 22 are enrolled in two of their Alternative Education programs and 12 students are outsourced to other programs.

With a firm belief that every student learns differently, educators in Barre say their methods may not be textbook -- but they work.

"If it weren't for this program, we have a lot of students who wouldn't have graduated," says English teacher Katie Meyer.

English teacher Katie Meyer is talking about Granite Academy ... One of three alternative programs at Spaulding High School. The two others are ACT and Phoenix, which was the first nearly two decades ago. Less than a mile from the high school, all three programs offer a different path to success for students with academic, emotional, or behavioral needs.

Through academics in the morning, then hands on learning in the afternoon, students in ACT are gearing up to get into the Barre Regional Technical Center.

Just upstairs from ACT is Spaulding's newest alternative program, the Granite Academy, for students who struggled in traditional high school classes. Here they have shorter classes and fewer students.

"When I have the state of mind that I have the tools to succeed -- then it's a lot easier. I don't go into the day with a negative outlook. I can just stay positive and know that if I need help it's there and I can just focus on what I need to do and get it done," says student Spencer Fewer.

"Even though the classes look different, and the curriculum might have a little more flexibility -- the standards stay the same," Meyer says.

Alternative programs are nothing new in Vermont, but administrators says how they are able to run the Granite Program is quite innovative.

"We saw the cost of special education rising, and we noticed that a lot of our kids were outsourced to different programs, and we wanted to bring those kids home and see if there's a cost savings," says BSU Director of Special Services Donald McMohan.

McMohan says outsourcing students to other programs puts a major strain on special education budgets.

To keep the 22 students in ACT and Granite Academy costs Spaulding about $548,000 a year. McMohan says to send those students to nearby programs would be $952,000. That's more than $400,000 in savings a year.

Teachers split their time here and at Spaulding and use the same curriculum. When these students graduate, they get Spaulding diplomas just like everyone else.

"I think I've done better this year than I have last year and all the years," says student Brandon Eberhart. "It makes me feel good. I like having good grades and I think it's really good."

It hasn't been all smooth sailing. Although teachers are in a groove now, Meyer says staff turnover has been a challenge since the beginning. And funds drying up is a looming concern. The programs rely on special education funding grants, which may not get renewed each year.

"Knowing that this has saved some of those students and has given them and given them the reading and the writing and the academic skills that they need," says Meyer, "it just would be heartbreaking to see that opportunity given to them and then taken away."

But educators say these programs are a priority. And can see students making school a priority, taking pride in where they learn.

"Which is always the end result that, that is their high school that they have not been placed some place to be out of the way. That they are included and will be Spaulding High School graduates. And that means a lot to the students and their parents," says Alternative Education Programs Director Alan Moore.

Changing alternative ed and inspiring students closer to home.

Granite Academy is in its fourth year, and school officials say seven students have graduated. The program can take up to 15 students, and with 10 currently enrolled, they say there is space for more students in the future.

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