Alternative Education League (AEL) Literature Review

“Don’t go through it, grow through it…”

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AEL Sports Video

Schools are amongst the institutions designed to shape human growth and development. Early thinkers helped to shape a theoretical foundation for what is expected in the educational experience. Horace Mann (1855) viewed education as enlightenment, creating greater possibilities than would be within one’s inherent capacity. Dewey (1916) claimed that “education is a nurturing, a cultivating process”. While many years have passed since these thoughts were conveyed, the desired outcomes of education are essentially unchanged: to provide essential knowledge and skills for navigating societal realities. Within the Alternative Education setting, there are nuances and variables that differ from the traditional education environments. When considering the learner’s strengths and areas for growth implementing innovative approaches is nonnegotiable. Expanding and transforming habits of mind and behaviors is a significant endeavor. Therefore, cultivating Alternative Education settings to become progressive environments requires thoughtful intentional actions.

An EdSource research summary on California’s Continuation Schools, found that Leaders that sought outside partnerships create strong institutions. Schools lacking these partnerships and connections were, by comparison, at a significant disadvantage in their efforts to meet student’s needs (2008). The context and focus of this research is Alternative Education settings given the Alternative Education League (AEL) was designed to support youth and young adults in those environments. This research seeks to determine the extent to which the AEL’s holistic approach model contributes to desired outcomes such as increased academic achievement, attendance, retention, intrinsic motivation and enhanced social and emotional development. The hypothesis posits there is a positive direct relationship between the AEL holistic approach model and desired outcomes. The expanded literature review for this study, will focus on the following themes to lend insight to the research question and hypothesis:

Alternative Education Culture and Climate

  • Definition of Alternative Education
  • Guiding Policies, Standards and Accountability Measures
  • Leaders and Teachers

Alternative Education Community of Learners

  • The Community of Learners
  • Strengths and Areas for Growth
  • Desired Experience and Outcome from Engagement

Activating Innovative Approaches in Alternative Education

  • Changes for Enhanced Beneficial Results
  • The Symbiotic Link Between Education and Recreation
  • Cultivating Intrinsic Motivation and Emotional Intelligence Competencies

In closing, I share thoughts from Lloyd Cornish, CEO and Founder of the DeLoren Foundation who designed the AEL as one of the organization’s programmatic offerings. Interestingly, his journey and experiences are consistent with and emphasized in the research literature:

“The AEL creates a platform for youth to thrive and produce. Often times, this population of youth look to other outlets to be recognized and fit in. They are attempting to be accepted and produce in order to gain confidence. Confidence leads to production and production leads to confidence.

“The AEL becomes a platform for youth not to be good at something but be accepted by their peer group because they all identify with their lack of participation in formal competitive sports. Most participating youth aren’t there to go to the NBA or better yet to college, they are there to be part of their peer group, to be somebody, to be accepted. Through social media, they see youth who play in the AEL in the two other cities which makes them feel like they know a youth without even meeting them. That translate to a relationship without knowing each other. So, when they do meet it’s a mutual understanding that they both are a part of this fraternity and we are both looking to better ourselves. They are all part of this AEL fraternity and we’re all in it together.”

“Coaches are also members of the community and are pivotal in players lives outside of the basketball. This relationship adds to the school culture which often times doesn’t exist in Alternative Education settings. Many times, Alternative Education settings are forcing youth to expedite their courses in order get their credentials because they are behind. However, considering this population of youth have been out of school for some time, they need extracurricular platforms to learn social engagement and the soft skills to thrive in this world the same if not more than traditional school students. These are the youth in some cases who have been through the juvenile justice system and experienced having children early on in life. AEL allows for vulnerability and acceptance.”

Please view this clip produced by youth who participate in the AEL’s Careers in Sports, Digital Design Program to hear their voice.

Sharia Shanklin, Ed. D

Education Scientist in SET Lab

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