School district registering for alternative program

Students, even those who live outside the district, are invited to register for South Whidbey’s new ALE program.

Registration is now open for a new alternative learning program for the 2021-2022 school year.

The South Whidbey School District is seeking new students for a pilot program that will focus on individualized, community-based learning that will take place outside the four walls of a traditional public school classroom.

Students need not live on South Whidbey, or even on the island, to be part of the unique program, according to Elementary School Principal Susie Richards.

“If this is appealing to families in Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Mukilteo, we can welcome them into the program,” she said.

The alternative learning experience, or ALE, is inspired by this year’s South Whidbey Parent Partnership Program. Parents in the school district approached Richards last summer about creating a curriculum for their children that was less dependent on Zoom and more involved with the natural world.

With the help of a mentor teacher in the school district, who translated the state’s requirements for public education to parents, families were able to choose their own course of learning for their children in grades K-6.

The initiative currently has a total of 75 kids enrolled. The new ALE will be a continuation of that program, but for grades K-8.

Richards is partnering with Lisa Kois, the director of Calyx Community Arts School, to launch the ALE for the school district.

It may seem unusual that the leaders of two different schools are working together, but the pair views it as collaboration, not competition.

Years ago, Richards and Kois worked together to found a nonprofit organization, Service, Education and Adventure.

“To come full-circle like this is just exciting,” Richards said.

“This feels like a vibrant partnership,” Kois said. “I feel like it’s really complementary.”

In order for the program to launch, a certain number of students who are not previously enrolled in the district are needed to cover the cost of funding. Richards said the district is very close to reaching its goal of at least 20 new students. Some of the new students have come from Calyx.

Potential course offerings could include hands-on math, a class aboard the SUVA Schooner, animal studies at local farms and more.

Students will be able to use resources from the school district, such as the South Whidbey School Farms, or resources from the community, such as the Maxwelton Outdoor Classroom or the South Whidbey Community Center.

As long as kids meet the required 27.75 hours of education per week, they are free to choose learning at home, with community partners or in a classroom, or a mix of all three if desired.

The proposal for the ALE was presented to school board members at a meeting last month. The board overwhelmingly agreed it was a good idea to pursue.

“This is a huge, huge gain for our school district,” Board Member Ann Johnson said. “I know alternative learning has just really saved the academic careers and the lives of kids throughout the years.”

“It seems like our community has a tradition of collaboration,” Board Member Marnie Jackson said. “And the more we collaborate, the richer our community becomes. And so I don’t sense this as competition between alternative educational opportunities but as a chance to make our whole community stronger.”

If the program gets enough students to launch, hiring decisions will be made based on the number of full-time equivalent, or FTE, students enrolled.

Registration for the ALE is open until May 21. For more information, email Richards at or call 360-221-4600.

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