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:

The Alternative Learning Centers (ALC) are designed to provide educational services for students in grades kindergarten through ten (10)  who are experiencing behavioral or academic difficulties, school anxiety,  who may be pregnant and parenting , 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-age 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 SY 2013-2014, 41% of hearing 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 2014-2015 school year. In the upcoming SY 2014-15 70% of hearing office placed students will meet their placement conditions.  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 Language! a research-based reading program offered by the FCPS Office of Special Education Instruction (OSEI) designed for students with special reading needs. The Read Well program is offered at the elementary level. In addition, English Language Learners (ELL) 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 ELLs. Students at the high school level that are pregnant or parenting and have not yet reached age 17, have the opportunity to participate in Project Opportunity, an extracurricular 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, interactive response systems (electronic clickers), and Learn 360 video clips to enhance the learning experience. With a continued increase of students having access to personal electronic devices, the ALCs are committed to ensuring that teachers seek opportunities to utilize these devices within the classroom supporting instruction in an interactive manner.  ALCs also utilize a blended model of instructional delivery using APEX (online learning tool). APEX 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.

ALC staff seeks to develop and build strong relationships with students and families by focusing on student strengths and commitment to moving forward towards improved behavior and academic success. ALC students (and parents) begin a “restorative” process upon enrollment by partnering with teachers and other members of staff to create a clear pathway back to the larger school community. Restorative justice practice is a way of thinking and responding to those that have been harmed by conflict and wrongdoing, and provides an opportunity for the students to understand that their actions impact others. Every ALC staff member is trained in Restorative Justice practice. Students in the ALC learn to be accountable for their decisions, and also learn that it is possible to make amends for past mistakes and move on. This practice and philosophy serves as the framework throughout enrollment as students develop and monitor, with the support of ALC staff, academic, behavioral and personal goals. Restorative dialogue is used whenever the student is removed from the learning environment due to behavior in an attempt to encourage a student to take responsibility for his/her actions in class, modify the identified behavior and repair their relationship with their classmates and teacher.

Each week, each secondary ALC sets aside time within the school day to invoke conversations with students. Students are organized into strategically organized 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 circles, 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 traditional discipline-a reactive approach. 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 century skills; creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving, communication and collaboration, and provide “extensions” to classroom instruction.

As students demonstrate patterns of appropriate academic, behavior and social skills, they are recommended to exit the program, or remain enrolled as an elective placement or enroll in another Nontraditional School Program (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:

Amstutz, L.S. and Mullet, J.H., (2005). Restorative Discipline for Schools. Good Books; Intercourse, PA.

Blood, P., and M. Thorsborne. (2005). The Challenge of Culture Change: Embedding Restorative Practices in Schools. 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.

Bowen, Elizabeth; (2008). Research Supporting the Structure and Design of the Alternative Learning Centers: Student Engagement

Bradshaw, Catherine P.; Koth, Christine W.; Bevans, Katherine B.; Ialongo, Nicholas; Leaf, Philip J. (Dec 2008) School Psychology Quarterly, Vol 23(4), p 462-473.

Chase, Elaine (2009). Supporting Young Parents: Pregnancy and Parenthood among Young People from Care. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Cooper, H., Valentine, J. C., Nye, B., and Lindsay, J. J. (1999). Relationships between five after-school activities and academic achievement. J. Educ. Psychol.9: 369–378.

Crawford, Adam, and Tim Newburn. (2003) Youth Offending and Restorative Justice: Implementing Reform in Youth Justice. Cullompton, Devon, UK:

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.

Holland, A., and Andre, T. (1987). Participation in extracurricular activities in secondary school: What is known, what needs to be known? Rev. Educ. Res.57: 437–466.

Kessler, Rachael, (2000). The Soul of Education: Helping Students Find Connection, Compassion, and Character at School. ASCD Publications: Alexandria, Va.

Mahoney, J. L., and Stattin, H. (2000). Leisure activities and adolescent antisocial behavior: The role of structure and social context. J. Adolesc.2000: 113–127.

Maiese, M. (2003). Intractability: Restorative Justice, The Aims of Restorative Justice. The Conflict Information Consortium; Boulder, Co.

Marzano, R.J., (2003). What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action. ASCD Publications: Alexandria, Va.

Mendez, L. M., & Knoff, H. M. (2003). Who gets suspended from school and why: A demographic analysis of schools and disciplinry infractions in a large school district. Education and Treatment of Children,26(1), 30–51.

Mills, M.S., (2003). Educating Language Minority Students, Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation; Bloomington, In.

Morrison, B.E. (2003). “Regulating Safe School Communities: Being Responsive and Restorative.” Journal of Educational Administration41(6), 689–704.

Morrison, G. M., & D’Incau, B. (1997). The web of zero-tolerance: Characteristics of students who are recommended for expulsion from school. Education & Treatment of Children,20 (August), 316–335.

Noddings, N. (2005). The Challenge to Care in Schools: An Alternative Approach to Education. Teachers College Press: New York, N.Y.

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.

Phillips, Vicki (1998). Empowering Discipline: The Approach That Works With At-Risk Students. Personal Development Publications: Camel, CA.

Ruzzi, Betsy B. and Kraemer, Jacqueline; (2006). Academic Programs in Alternative Education: An Overview. National Center on Education and the Economy.

Tallerico, M., (2005). Supporting and Sustaining Teachers’ Professional Development: Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, California.

Tomlinson, C.A., (1999). The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners. ASCD Publications; Alexandria, Va.


The FY 2015 total budget for Alternative Learning Center is $5 million.  The budget information can be found at the following link on pages 95-96: