A specialized alternative program that supports 22 students in grades 10 and 11 has been reinstated for the year at Howard S. Billings High School in Châteauguay on Montreal’s South Shore.
New Frontiers School Board director general Rob Buttars told Global News that one teacher has been assigned t the Alternatives Directions program and that rather administrative staff and teachers agreed to rework their classrooms — with some classes taking on more students — so the program can continue.
“It’s a historic program that we’ve had at that school. We’ve had many successful graduates and I think it fits the fabric of Howard S. Billings, but ultimately when we’re looking at all the students, you want to do what’s best,” he told Global News.
“[The program helps] students who have trouble or difficulty in the traditional classroom, so while some of them have learning disabilities, some are just learning in a different environment.”
Buttars noted the school will have to decide each year whether the program, which has two full-time teachers and several part-time staff, will be renewed for the following academic year.
“I think it’s important to keep a program that touches so many students and we hope it’s the best decision. We look forward to success for these students and that program,” he said.
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Catherine Higgins, whose 16-year-old son Maxwell Clement is in Grade 11 with Alternatives Directions, insists the program is a life-changer for some teenagers.
“This is a no-brainer. These are the kids that need this program, that need this support,” she told Global News, adding she was worried her son wouldn’t graduate.
The teen, who has a learning disability, was relieved to find out that the program would be reinstated for the year.
“He was so happy. It’s unfortunate that we had to live through this, this week because it was a very stressful week,” Higgins said.
“But in that stressful week, I saw such great changes in my son — who doesn’t even speak up in class, but was able to speak in front of the commissioner.”
Just last month, principal Collin Thomas said the school was forced to cancel the program because it did not have enough staffing or money to hire new teachers for the program.
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“We did not have enough to manage all of the programming in the school,” he told Global News in August.
Students and their parents were informed of the move in a notice issued at the time.
“Providing the service of an alternative education to a select clientele of grade 10 and 11 students has simply become too costly for the system, given our current reality,” it said.
Alternatives Directions was created to give an extra boost to students who needed support outside of a traditional classroom setting.
The program has been offered for more than 20 years and the school says it has a high success rate because it provides a smaller classroom setting where teachers and staff can directly bond with students.
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“For students who struggle with learning, I feel it’s a better place for them,” said Chase Glover-Kirby, a former student who took part in the program.
As for Clement, Higgins says her son has one plan for when he graduates: “He said, ‘I’m going to work as many jobs as I can to make sure the alternative program has funding.'”
The first day for students in the Alternatives Directions program was Tuesday.
— With files from Global News’ Brayden Jagger Haines and Kalina Laframboise