College culture challenges students

Published 3:18 pm Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Shelby County Alternative School in Alabaster recently hung nearly 100 college pennants in its Hall of Champions. School administrators are looking to inspire students to seek higher education after high school.

Walking through the front door of the Shelby County Alternative School in Alabaster reveals an explosion of bold-type letters, college logos and bright colors.

While it may sound like a scene from a college sporting event, Alternative School administrators are hoping the building’s hallways will inspire students to achieve their best in the academic realm.

In late July, Alternative School Principal Dr. Mark Isley envisioned a school filled with visual reminders of life beyond high school.

After brainstorming about the idea, Isley began contacting provosts at the top 100 academic colleges and universities in the nation to ask for a pennant bearing the institution’s logo and name.

“I believe that today, we are all much more visual learners,” Isley said. “So I looked up the top 100 universities in the country, contacted their provosts and requested a donation of the school’s pennant.”

When he began calling the universities, Isley said he was unsure how many would mail their school pennants to Alabaster. But less than three weeks after he began calling the higher-education institutions, Isley had already hung 90 pennants in the Alternative School’s main hallway.

The Hall of Champions features local universities, like Auburn, Alabama, UAB and Samford, and many others from across the nation, like Oakland University and the University of Alaska.

“Our theme this year is ‘developing champions,’” Isley said. “What better way to imprint that message on the students than to literally have the top 100 universities displayed in the main hallway.”

Because the Alternative School serves many students who have past disciplinary problems at other Shelby County schools, it is important for Alternative School administrators to help the students and remind them of the opportunities they have beyond high school, Isley said.

“I wish I would have had someone pulling me in the direction of higher education when I was in high school,” Isley said. “Nobody ever really sat me down and said ‘there’s a university out there for you.’”

Helping the students achieve academically will also help address many of their behavioral problems, said Isley.

“A lot of alternative schools take the approach that, ‘well, we’ll just punish them until they start behaving, and maybe we can teach them something while we’re at it,’” Isley said. “You change behavior by changing their academic achievement.

“If they are not able to read on grade level, or do math or understand science, that’s going to continue to frustrate them, and the behavior problems are not going to get any better,” Isley added. “We want to establish a culture of academic excellence.”

Isley said he is planning to send thank-you letters to the presidents at each of the universities represented in the Hall of Champions, and also request T-shirts from each of the institutions.

Alternative School teachers would wear the university shirts every Friday as another reminder of the opportunities students have beyond high school.

“My goal is that other principals at schools in Shelby County and across the state will consider doing something like this,” Isley said. “All the accolades and credit go to Jesus Christ. That’s really where this all came from.

“I don’t want to be lifted up. I want to lift the students’ achievements up,” he added.