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.

I would like to see information about:

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 2014-2015, 37.5% 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 2015-2016 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 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 and 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 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 that has been 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. Teaching 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 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 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 21stto 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 FY 2016 total budget for  Alternative Learning Centers is $11.4 million. The budget information can be found at the following link on pages 90-11:

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, Brown, R. and Evans, W.P. (2002).

Extracurricular activity and ethnicity creating greater school connection among diverse student populations. Urban Education, January 2002 Vol. 37 no. 1 41-58

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

Crawford, Adam, and Tim Newburn. (2003). Youth offending and restorative justice: Implementing reform in youth justice. Willan Publishing, 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.

Kessler, Rachael, (2000). The soul of education: Helping students find connection, compassion, and character at school.

ASCD Publications, Alexandria, Va. Kiem, A. M. and Connell, J. P. (2004), Relationships matter: linking teacher support to student engagement and achievement, Journal of School Health, 74: 262-273, doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2004.tb08283.x

Mahoney, J. L., and Stattin, H. (2000). Leisure activities and adolescent antisocial behavior: The role of structure and social contex. Journal of Adolescence, 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 disciplinary 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 Administration, 41(6), 689–704.

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.

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.

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)

Executive Function and Emotion Regulation: A Developmental Perspective Ph.D. Paper Presented at the Annual International Trauma Conference, Boston, MA. Budget