This year, the Kyrene Elementary School District has begun a new alternative program for sixth- through eighth-graders who are suspended for minor violations.
Instead of being sent home for one to 10 days as punishment, parents can opt to send their children to a 15-day program in which they continue to take classes.
"It’s not a punishment," said Robert Harding, lead teacher of the program. "We’re more of a rehabilitation program, and prevention. If they’re doing things to get suspended, there is a red flag there. We want to get kids now before they do something later that will really get them in trouble and that would take them out of education and would even incarcerate them."
District spokesman Johnny Cruz said the idea is to provide an opportunity for students being disciplined to continue learning, and dissuade students who simply want to go home. The program operates differently than alternative schools in other districts. Alternative schools typically take students for the remainder of the semester. While at an alternative school, students
continue on a routine class schedule earning credits.
The Kyrene program, housed in a separate facility at Kyrene del Pueblo Middle School, is 15 days long regardless of the suspension length. Students who don’t complete the program must start their suspensions over.
The first half of each day in the program is spent focusing on math, language and reading skills. The second half is spent in character education programs with Harding.
So far, two students have entered the program. Harding said the length of the program allows him time to delve into why students are having problems. He then works to gain their trust and help them overcome their issues, which can range from bullying to organizational problems.
Students with serious violations such as weapons or drug offenses cannot take part in the program.