HomeCherry Hill NewsDistrict announces new location for alternative high school

District announces new location for alternative high school

Program to be relocated to Cherry Hill East this fall

Emily Liu/The Sun

The Cherry Hill board of education has announced that Coles Alternative High School program will move from the Lewis Administration Building to East High as “a school within a school” beginning in the fall.

Director of Special Education Caitlin Mallory and Coles Alternative Principal Lauren Giordano gave an overview of the latter school at the board’s March meeting, the reason for its relocation and possible challenges in doing so.

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A school within a school is defined as having 30 to 250 students, a separate administrator or teacher in charge, and a space specifically dedicated to it within another public school.

Giordano explained that the program serves three kinds of students: those who’ve experienced trauma or have often transferred schools, impacting their ability to keep up with the usual rigor of classes; students who get emotional regulation or behavioral support; and those in academic recovery and acceleration who are school-avoidant and have missed a large amount of class time.

“For all intents and purposes,” Giordano explained, “our ‘why’ is to create individualized support plans that enable each student to heal, grow and redefine self-perception, and tap into potential and to connect with families and help provide supports.

“We work on behavior, habits, self-care, social interactions, relationships and academic recovery and acceleration.”

Mallory emphasized that discussions around the Coles Alternative relocation had been happening for at least a decade, and the district sought opportunities for more inclusion as appropriate and with more support, “because a shared campus would offer that,” she also noted.

“Part of the reason (of why now is because) … we kept coming back to the same theme,” Mallory added, dismissing the idea that the relocation was due solely to budget cuts. “You have to have the right leadership, staff and group of students in order to do a transition like this.”

Challenges raised by board meeting presenters included student anxiety and difficulty with change, public perception of the program and ownership of the space. As for the last, Mallory stressed, administrators anticipate some changes in the B wing – where the program will be housed – such as creating a sound production studio and publicizing what the program entails.

Concerns raised by the public cited a lack of public discussion prior to presentation at either of two board meetings earlier in the month, though the board acknowledged that this change was part of the budget approved at an earlier session; potential overcrowding at East; student difficulty in adjusting; and the language used to describe attendees of the alternative high by adults online and possibly students in person.

“Most of these students attending, as you heard, have experienced trauma,” said Cherry Hill resident and former board of education member Kimberly Friddell. “Some of it coming directly from the schools. Students who were bullied and harassed so significantly that it impacted their ability to be successful in a comprehensive high school.

“Sending some of these students back to the place they fled will have significant impact on their learning.”

“Who is going to protect them?” Friddell then asked at the meeting. “The rude comments have already started from adults.”

She cited those comments from adults in response to a Facebook post on March 21 announcing the relocation. From now until June, Giordano will collect feedback from students, parents and staff, with the goal of enabling students and families to visit the new school by August.

The full board of education presentation is available on the district YouTube channel.


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