Program Profiles

These profiles provide a snapshot of the strong instructional framework offered in Fairfax County Public Schools by providing relevant facts and the area of focus for each program. Use the drop down menu, pick a program, and start exploring the innovative programs offered in this world class school division.

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Name of Program or Service:  Alternative Learning Centers (ALC)            print-friendly version

Contact Person:   Kathryn Salerno

Program Overview:

General Overview       

The Alternative Learning Centers (ALC) are designed to provide educational services for students in grades kindergarten through ten (10) who are experiencing behavioral challenges, academic difficulties, or students who simply require a nontraditional learning environment.  Additionally, the ALCs serve students who have been involved in serious disciplinary incidents.  ALCs offer full-day programming, including electives (or specials for the elementary-aged students) with bell schedules being closely aligned with the host schools to allow for dual enrollment on an individual basis. This full-day programming allows students to maintain academic progress and earn equivalent credits to those they would have possibly earned at a comprehensive school.

The school culture, climate, and instructional practices at ALCs are the main reason for high student success. During SY2015-16, 55% of Hearings Office placed ALC students met their placement conditions as defined by the Hearings Office and returned to a comprehensive school, or remained enrolled at an ALC as an electively-placed student.  ALCs will focus on improving this rate of success for the 2016-17 school year.

With the primary focus on student learning, and a continual open enrollment, ALCs pre-test each student upon enrollment in core areas to gain an understanding of each student’s ability and progress in the Program of Studies (POS) in order to individualize each student’s coursework.  Teachers employ instructional best practices to engage students in learning. Small class size and lower student to teacher/staff ratios allow teachers to customize instruction for each student.  Secondary ALCs are staffed with seven full-time teachers including teachers certified in core content areas and two special education teachers.  Each secondary program offers research-based practices with explicit instruction characterized by scaffolds for struggling students in literacy.  In addition, English Learners (ELs) are supported by an itinerant ESOL teacher on a regularly scheduled basis.  Ongoing collaboration between the ESOL teacher and ALC teachers provides critical support to ELs.

Students at the high school level who are pregnant or parenting and have not yet reached age 17, have the opportunity to participate in Project Opportunity through the alternative learning center.  Project Opportunity is an informative forum for pregnant and parenting students.  Project Opportunity provides resources and tools to help strengthen student’s parenting skills through group and individual counseling, parenting classes, life skills training, mentoring, and child care assistance.

ALCs are committed to the use of technology in the classrooms.  Research has proven that student engagement and student learning increases with its usage.  ALC teachers and staff use SMART boards/Mimios and its related software as well as interactive field trips to enhance the learning experience.  ALCs also utilize a blended model of instructional delivery using Apex Learning, an approved online software.  Apex Learning software is used to ensure that all students have access to courses not offered in the traditional ALC master schedule or for students who prefer an online learning environment.

All students in Nontraditional School Programs (NSP) begin a reflective process upon enrollment by partnering with teachers and other staff members to create a clear pathway back to the larger school community.  Parents are invited and encouraged to participate in creating a positive transition and new beginning during the enrollment meeting.  A restorative philosophy serves as the framework throughout enrollment as students develop and monitor academic, behavioral, and personal goals with the support of staff.  Restorative practices are utilized in the classroom to build relationships and to encourage students to take personal responsibility for their actions in class and in the school community.  A restorative justice (RJ) process is recommended after an incident of wrongdoing or conflict to repair the relationships between staff and students that may have been harmed.  When the restorative justice process is used, it is at the discretion of the administrator and is facilitated by an FCPS certified staff member.  Participation is voluntary for all involved parties.  Students learn to be accountable for their decisions, and also learn that it is possible to make amends for past mistakes and move forward.  The RJ process provides an opportunity for students or staff affected by wrongdoing to have a voice in the reparation of harm.  All NSP staff members will participate in ‘Level One Restorative Justice Orientation Training’ professional development.

Instructional staff wishing to learn more about restorative practices for classroom management can attend the ‘Restorative Practices for Classroom Management’ academy class or FCPS teacher trainings.  FCPS staff facilitating restorative justice processes must be trained and certified by an FCPS Restorative Justice Specialist.

Each week, each secondary ALC sets aside time within the school day to invoke conversations with students.  Students are placed strategically into small groups called Personal Growth Circles (PGC). Each PGC reflects on structured questions focused on self-esteem, life challenges, and citizenship. PGCs are conducted in the format of a restorative circle, which provides safe environments for students to share their feelings and thoughts while learning about their peers. The circle structure also develops student’s pro-social skills by teaching students to be respectful of others’ opinions, and to practice refraining from interrupting while others are speaking.  ALC staff members employ research-based Positive Behavior and Intervention Supports (PBIS) to assist students in developing patterns of appropriate academic, behavior, and social skills.  Classrooms are structured for success.  Administrators facilitate on-going professional development opportunities for ALC staff members to develop and maintain a proactive approach, rather than a traditional reactive approach (such as discipline). Through the support of school counselors, social workers, and psychologists, ALCs teach students pro-social behavior, rather than control anti-social behavior on an on-going basis. Each site tracks appropriate behaviors demonstrated by students and utilizes Preferred Activity Time (PAT) to further reward students for meeting academic and behavioral milestones as opposed to punishing negative behaviors.

To further support secondary ALC students, each secondary site offers an activity period during the school day on a regularly scheduled basis.  Examples of such activities include chess club, community service project development, step team, STEAM club, film club, math club, gamers club, music mixing, etc., or other high interest clubs for students.  The opportunity for ALC staff to sponsor such activities allows for relationship-building between staff and students.  Additionally, these activity periods promote 21st classroom instruction.  As students demonstrate patterns of appropriate academic, behavior, and social skills, they are recommended to exit the program, remain enrolled as an elective placement, or enroll in another NSP.


The approach to instruction and behavior in the ALC is informed by research in the field.  A brief listing of research studies and texts providing information regarding best practices related to working with at-risk adolescents includes the following:

Bowen, Elizabeth; (2008). Paper presented at the Sixth International Conference on Conferencing, Circles and other Restorative Practices: “Building a Global Alliance for Restorative Practices and Family Empowerment.” Sydney, Australia, March 3–5, 2005.

Chase, Elaine (2009). Supporting young parents: pregnancy and parenthood among young people from care. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London.

Dawson, Peg, and Richard Guare. Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents: A Practical Guide To Assessment and Intervention. Second Edition. Print.

Diamantopoulou, S., Rydell, A. M., Thorell, L. B., & Bohlin, G. (2007). Impact of executive functioning and symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder on children's peer relations and school performance. Developmental neuropsychology, 32(1), 521-542.

Dotterer, Aryn M., and Katie Lowe. "Classroom context, school engagement, and academic achievement in early adolescence." Journal of Youth and Adolescence 40.12 (2011): 1649-1660.

Goldman, Susan R. "Adolescent literacy: Learning and understanding content." The Future of Children 22.2 (2012): 89-116.

Gregory, A., Skiba, R. J., & Noguera, P. A. (2010). The achievement gap and the discipline gap: Two sides of the same coin? Educational Researcher, 39(1), 59–68.

Guthrie, John T., Allan Wigfield, and Susan Lutz Klauda. "Adolescents’ engagement in academic literacy." Adolescents’ engagement in academic literacy. Sharjah: UAE: Bentham Science Publishers (2012).

Guzzetti, Barbara J., and Eunjin Bang. "The influence of literacy-based science instruction on adolescents' interest, participation, and achievement in science." Literacy Research and Instruction 50.1 (2010): 44-67.

Meek, Margaret. Achieving Literacy (RLE Edu I): Longitudinal Studies of Adolescents Learning to Read. Vol. 116. Routledge, 2013.

Noltemeyer, A., & Mcloughlin, C. S. (2010). Patterns of exclusionary discipline by school typology, ethnicity, and their interaction. Perspectives on Urban Education, 7(1), 27–40.

Pressley, Michael, et al., eds. Shaping literacy achievement: Research we have, research we need. Guilford Publications, 2015.

Snow, Catherine, and Elizabeth Moje. "Why Is Everyone Talking About Adolescent Literacy?" Phi Delta Kappan 91.6 (2010): 66-69.

Staff, Jeremy, John E. Schulenberg, and Jerald G. Bachman. "Adolescent work intensity, school performance, and academic engagement." Sociology of Education 83.3 (2010): 183-200.

Van der Donk, M. LA, Hiemstra-Beernink, A.C., Tjeenk-Kalff, A.C., Van der . A.C., & Lindauer, R.. (2013). Interventions to improve executive functioning and working memory in school-aged children with AD(H)D: a randomised controlled trial and stepped-care approach. BMC Psychiatry, Vol 13:23 doi:10.1186/1471-244X-13-23 Zelazo, P.P. (2010, May)


The FY2017 total budget for Alternative Learning Centers is $4.6 million.  The budget information can be found at the following link on pages 88-89.