Attrition among students costs individuals, institutions, and communities. As a result, alternative schools are growing rapidly. In 2010, over half a million students were enrolled in public alternative schools in the nation (Carver, Lewis, & Tice, 2010). Alternative programs offered at secondary, middle, and elementary schools exhibiting a variety of practices, structures, and philosophies combat this epidemic of attrition. This mixed study investigates best practices in an alternative middle school setting from a student’s perspective. Uncovered exemplars could allow administrators to implement strategies best suited to meet alternative middle school students’ needs. Qualitative data consisted of two rounds of interviews with 10 participants. Quantifiable data collected included Idaho Standard Achievement Test scores (ISAT), grade point averages (GPAs), and attendance records prior to attending Span Academy and after completion of the program. Results from the ISAT scores revealed eight to 13 points of growth, equivalent to two to three years of growth. GPAs on a 4-point scale improved 1.5 points in language and 1.3 points in math. Students who achieved Level 5 and transitioned had 26 fewer absences while attending Span Academy than their previous year in school. In accordance to research protocol, two questions were rephrased to eliminate ambiguity and retain the integrity of student responses. Finally, it also became apparent that students attending alternative programs carry a stigma. This understanding provided an awareness that resulted in changed practices and procedures at Span Academy. Additionally, this research revealed that alternative middle schools, like Span
Academy, contrary to the original design as a transition school, are better served as a 2-year intervention program, where the research revealed few students transitioned as of 2009 to present, and most preferred to remain at Span Academy through their eighth-grade year. Accordingly, Span Academy redesigned its program from a typical transition school to a comprehensive 2-year intervention program. Overwhelmingly, the student responses, supported by the quantifiable data, resulted in two overarching themes of accountability and relationship.The results from this research not only lend to best practices in an alternative middle school environment, but provide answers and strategies to best assist students in a traditional setting as well.