What does the word "alternative" mean when referring to an alternative school?

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Peter Romano, Teacher

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The term "alternative school" refers to an enormous range of schools that differ by varying degrees from the concept of a "traditional school."

In "traditional" education it is the role of the teacher to act as an authority figure that dispenses facts, and it the role of students to memorize these facts. A school that strives to be "alternative" may be founded on any number of educational philosophies and principles that depart from this model.

Schools that offer more opportunities for children to contribute and take more control over the learning process may be considered "alternative." Project-based learning, for instance, enables students to learn via self-management and planning to achieve a long-term goal. In this educational model, the student takes control over the learning process while the teacher plays a supportive and guiding role.

Not all alternative programs are created equally. While some schools may profess to be alternative in order to appear trendy or attractive on the surface, the learning environment may be traditional in practice. Parents who seek learning environments that depart from the traditional model would be well-advised to tour a number of schools to see which would be the best fit for their child.

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