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Lehman Alternative Community School: Wikis


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The Lehman Alternative Community School (LACS) is a nationally renowned public, educational alternative, combined middle and high school in the Ithaca City School District in Ithaca, New York. Serving grades 6-12 with approximately 270 students, the school is known for its small class size, non-traditional curricula, and focus on active student participation. Demand to attend the school greatly exceeds available space, and the waiting list to enter the school generally exceeds 270 applicants. Analogous to Brown University, the academic philosophy of the school is based on the premise that students should be influential in shaping their education.



In 1974, parents and teachers in Ithaca, New York, rallied support on the school board to create a junior high school that would provide students with an educational experience that would be empowering, relevant, and democratic. Dr. David Lehman was recruited to be the school's first principal and to bring the community's dream to reality. The resulting program was the New Junior High Program (NJHP) for grades 7 through 9, and was housed in the old Markles Flats building on the corner of Court and Plain Streets in downtown Ithaca. In 1977, the program was moved to Ithaca High School's E-Building, and in 1978, grades 10–12 were added. The original configuration for the expanded school was two programs with the senior high named the Alternative Community High School (ACHS). Shortly thereafter, grade 6 was added and the school was unified into a single 6–12 entity called the Alternative Community School (ACS). NJHP, ACHS, and ACS all embraced democratic shared governance by the students, staff, principal, and parents. In the early years of NJHP, staff and students would gather at the beginning of each "cycle" (quarters) to hammer out a schedule of classes together. Students could offer classes and teachers could take classes. As the school grew from the original 60 or so junior high students, the scheduling by consensus became prohibitively time consuming, but to this day one of the center pieces of the school's educational philosophy is its commitment to participatory, democratic decision making.

In 1983, the program moved to its current location in the former West Hill Elementary School at 111 Chestnut St. In 1987, the school joined the Coalition of Essential Schools, a national secondary school reform movement initiated by Dr. Ted Sizer of Brown University that emphasizes depth over breadth in education, among other key principles. This led LACS to develop its own unique set of high school graduation requirements and alternative means of evaluating student progress toward school those requirements, moving completely away from the old high school "credit system" and New York State Regents Exams. This work led LACS to be designated, in the fall of 1992, as one of the first fourteen "Compact Partnership Schools" under the Board of Regents and Commissioner's "New Compact for Learning," a document calling for major reforms in education for the state of New York. With a new board of Regents in the years that followed and after countless phone calls, letters and presentations to the state government by staff and students of LACS, the school's leadership was ignored in the rush to move to stricter high-stakes testing. Although LACS high school students were exempted from the state-wide examinations for many years, recent policy changes have slowly begun to phase in the exam. The school has been fighting the change in the legislature and in the court system as part of a consortium of New York State alternative schools.

Following his retirement in 2004, the school was renamed after founder and principal Dr. David Lehman.

Non-traditional learning

As an alternative school, LACS offers broad academic freedom to its students, and they are encouraged to design their own course of study. Every student is part of a "committee" that meets twice weekly to aid in the keeping of the school, and the school meets in an All School Meeting every week to vote on issues facing the school. Students are on a first name basis with their teachers, and some students help teach electives in topics like computer programming, beading, or another area of their special interest. Rather than receive grades, students receive written narrative evaluations, and also reflect and evaluate on their own learning at the end of each semester.

Progress in many, although still not all, high school classes is measured in a program called "Graduation by Exhibition." In it, students create portfolios to demonstrate their mastery of core subjects, rather than taking a single test at the end of their studies. At the end of their senior year, each student also is responsible for completing a "senior project" that allows the student to demonstrate his or her learning, usually in a way that connects back to the community. Past projects have included dance performances, written plays, murals, or scientific projects.

All students and most faculty participate in "family groups." Family groups combine some of the functions of a home room, support group, and guidance office. Each family group spends time bonding, going over scheduling, helping to make decisions about school governance, and fundraising for the annual spring trips. However, Family Groups have widely been regarded as not fulfilling their original purposes in recent years, and there have been moves to reform their goals.

Students, faculty, and staff join together in two yearly special retreats. In the fall, the entire school takes a two-day retreat to the nearby Arnot Forest. In the spring, students choose from among several possible week-long away or local trips. Some trips go hiking, canoeing, bicycling, or fishing. Local trips often take days during the week to visit nearby museums or film videos about the community. One annual away trip visits the Akwesasne Native American reservation to engage in community service, and another works with the Habitat for Humanity program. Upperclass students have the option of fundraising for a week-long trip to a French- or Spanish-speaking country.

Classes are small, and a few classes meet in multi-disciplinary blocks of 90 minutes, rather than traditional 45 minute periods. For example, science and mathematics classes are often taught together as an integrated subject, as are English and Social Studies classes. The school believes that this fosters greater understanding and synthesis of the subjects. This has led to discussions about moving to a fully block schedule.

Student Government

The LACS student body has unique student government. Once a week, an All-School Meeting (ASM) is held. During ASMs, students and staff discuss and vote on proposals to change the school - proposals that are brought by students and staff alike. Meetings are organized by the "Agenda Committee", a committee comprised almost entirely of students.

See also

Alternative education

External links

Comprehensive Information Report] from the New York State Education Department



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