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Despite name change, mission remains same for Massena alternative school

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MASSENA — The name may be different, but the mission of the former Alternative Education School remains the same: ensuring that students who don’t fit into the regular classroom setting are able to graduate and move on to either college or their careers.

Massena Central School officials announced recently the school’s name had been changed to Delta School of Choice.

“We rolled out a new name to get rid of some of the stigma that follows alternative education,” Principal Jeremy J. Siddon told Board of Education members this month.

However, he said, the school would continue to align itself with the district’s mission of “All students will be college- or career-ready, and productive members of their community, upon graduation from Massena Central School District.”

“Unfortunately not every student comes to school with the tools to be successful in a traditional school setting,” Mr. Siddon said.

Social studies teacher Joseph Mittiga said they were able to isolate why some students were having problems in the traditional setting.

“When I first became a teacher, it didn’t take me long to identify sources of why kids act out,” he said.

In some cases, Mr. Mittiga said, a student might be embarrassed by poor grades, leading to bad behavior. Some might begin skipping school, while others might quit.

The “old solution,” he said, was to isolate those students in remote classrooms or in Board of Cooperative Educational Services programs, discipline them, fail them, pass undeserving students or allow or encourage them to drop out.

However, that meant higher dropout rates and classroom disruptions with decreased instruction for all students. Mr. Mittiga said educators also get students whose parents had dropped out of school and “don’t give them the greatest tools to succeed.”

“The old solution does not work,” he said.

Although it’s an alternative school, Mr. Mittiga said, it was already ahead of the curve in its programming.

“Quite frankly, this is pretty cutting edge. We were common core before there was common core,” he said, noting it also has the same academic standards as the traditional setting.

The school offers students an opportunity to earn a Regents diploma and transition into college with 20 credit hours thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Smart Scholars program, Mr. Siddon said.

Students also have an opportunity for “real-life experience,” he said, including internships with the St. Lawrence County Youth Bureau and work with the Youth Conservation Corps.

“It’s important that students be given opportunities they might never have been able to get anywhere else,” Mr. Siddon said.

In return, students have “heightened” responsibilities, he said, including responsibility for their actions and setting goals and working to achieve them.

Although they may not be part of the traditional classroom environment, the students remain part of the junior or senior high school, Mr. Mittiga said. They may attend dances and participate in sports and clubs.

The school has 10 seventh-graders, 10 eighth-graders, 12 ninth-graders, 12 sophomores, 10 juniors and six seniors, a total of 60 students.

“The learning environment is unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of,” he said.

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