Too often school is defined as something for children between the ages of five and 18. And the debate over year-round schools in Maryland might lead one to believe that no one now attends school between June and September. But administrators and teachers who run Carroll County's alternative programs toil under neither of those constraints.
They offer writing classes to adults, summer school to middle and high school children and literacy classes to parents and pre-schoolers. Last year, more than 4,100 people participated in 15 non-traditional education programs the county school systems runs.
For dozens of students, these programs allowed them to become graduates instead of dropouts. The county's alternative programs also allowed adults to take courses they needed for high school equivalency certificates or to obtain the basic literacy skills they need to function in everyday life.
One of the more successful alternative education programs has been one for troublesome middle and high school students. These are youngsters who have received extended suspensions have severe attendance, behavior and achievement problems and are removed from their home schools. With intensive instruction and counseling, these teen-agers can return to their schools. About 100 students participated last year, and five students who probably would have been unable to graduate because of long suspensions received their diplomas last spring.
By attending evening classes and summer school, a number of other Carroll students also filled in credits necessary to graduate. More than 600 students attended summer school; 18 received diplomas.
As for adults, nearly 2,000 took advantage of Carroll's adult basic education offerings last year. Classes are organized so that participants can enroll at any time and leave when they feel they learned the skills they were lacking. The county school system also offers a 12-week program to prepare adults to take the General Equivalency Diploma examination.
The system's non-traditional education programs don't receive much publicity, but the benefits are widespread. They give people a second chance to educate themselves and enhance the quality of their lives.