The following article was featured as the cover story in the August 4, 2020 edition of The Current in Westfield. The full Aug. 4 publication of The Current can be found here.
Another way to learn: Alternative learning provides avenues for struggling students
By Anna Skinner
Options Charter School CEO Mike Gustin doesn’t advocate a one-size-fits-all approach to alternative learning.
“Alternative programming is like any other consumer item you would go out and purchase and try to access,” he said. “There’s options and choices, and what we do in Indiana is, there’s a difference in Indiana coding between an alternative school and an alternative program.
“They serve uniquely different purposes within the alternative spectrum of student.”
Although Westfield Washington Schools is refining a new alternative program, Gustin said there’s still a need for Options, and vice versa. Options Charter School broke ground on its Westfield campus last month at the northwest quadrant of Gunther Boulevard and Ind. 32.
“So within alternative programming, and we are aware Westfield Washington Schools is ramping up some alternative programming, is they focus their programming on one or two types of students, but they don’t provide programming across the bandwidth of alternative learning that might suite the needs of all alternative kids facing challenges,” Gustin said.
Gustin said Options Charter School works with local superintendents about ways to keep students enrolled in the district.
“If (students) have something in their school like a co-curricular or extracurricular activity, or if the student has a positive adult relationship, that is a hook for that kid to stay in school and perform well, even though they may temporarily be going through some difficult times,” Gustin said. “That student should stay in school and attend that programming if it’s designed to meet their need.
“We step into the void when things are absent, when the student doesn’t feel connected to school or the community or has no real connection to the people or programming there.”
If a student is connected with their district through clubs, relationships or sports, they generally see success within the alternative programming, whereas when those connections aren’t present, the student can feel disconnected in the district and may be better suited for something like Options.
“To me, the biggest difference really is that when a student is a Westfield student, there are so many different resources we have available in the entire district,” WWS Supt. Sherry Grate Said. “The whole idea is that we are trying to create the best academic experience we can for students and provide a wrap-around, so if a student can stay and we can provide all of those resources to help them be successful, then that’s a huge success.
“Options is a great partner for us. It’s finding out what’s the best fit for each student, and the more we can keep our students in the Westfield school system by meeting their needs, the better off they are.”
An Options Charter School example
Noblesville resident Connor Reiff benefits from Options Charter School education because the alternative learning school is flexible when it comes to Reiff’s medical needs.
“I have to travel to Stanford (University) for treatment and Southern California for clinical trials to help with my sleep disorders, and (Options) continues to be accommodating over the three years I’ve been there,” said Reiff, 16. “Those three chronic illnesses have kind of affected everybody in my family, and Options accommodated my sister, who sometimes had to fly with us out to Stanford.”
About Options Schools
Serving students in grades 6-12, Options Schools are free, public charter schools with brick and mortar campuses in Carmel and Noblesville & a new campus opening in Westfield in August 2021. Options also offers additional programs that serve students throughout the state of Indiana (serving over 90 school corporations). With a high-quality, individualized approach, Options was founded in 2002 and specializes in providing students with an inclusive environment and a student-to-teacher ratio of 15-to-1.