The Kirkwood School District is planning a massive overhaul and rebranding of its alternative education programs and classes.

Beginning next school year, the district’s VISTA program, which serves 36 Kirkwood students, will be moved to Kirkwood High School. The program’s current location at the Hough Community Learning Center on North Sappington Road is about a mile-and-a-half from the high school.

“Right now the resources are split and some students have to leave the (high school) campus to get the alternative and therapeutic services they need – it’s disjointed,” said Melissa Sandbothe, executive director of special programs and co-chair of the alternative education task force. “Maybe a student could benefit from access to an alternative service and then go back to their regular classroom, but as it stands we can’t really do that because of the split campuses.”

VISTA will move into the current ATLAS area within the high school, and the ATLAS alternative program will be relocated to the Learning Resource Center on the second floor of the library.

Sandbothe said having the alternative education services under one roof will not only go a long way toward getting students the services they need, but also scheduling meetings with students, teachers and service providers.

“Everyone who needs to be involved in the decision-making process will be in one place, which means there will be a lot less scheduling conflicts,” she said.

Sandbothe and her team also want to change the perception of alternative education.

“We need to do a rebranding of alternative education in general and make sure it is seen as a positive support system,” she said. “We want students to view this as something that is helping them and meeting their needs, not something that happens to them when things go badly.”

Sandbothe said although most students who are receiving alternative education services are proud of themselves and the work they’re doing, they’re also aware it’s not often perceived positively among other students.

“I love the rebranding of the program to celebrate alternative learning because VISTA often comes with a negative connotation,” Kirkwood School Board Member Jennifer Pangborn said.

Part of the rebranding process is making it clear to parents, staff and other students that many students, including those who meet the criteria for gifted programs or take English as a second language, are receiving alternative education services within the district. It’s not just students who struggle in a traditional classroom setting or have substance abuse problems who find themselves receiving alternative educational services.

“People don’t realize how many students are receiving alternative educational services,” Sandbothe said.

The alternative education task force also plans to implement a formal process to develop individual intervention plans for students and monitor their progress.

“We want to make sure we’re asking all students the same questions and then using the data we have available,” Sandbothe said, adding there will also be a push for a process that is proactive rather than reactive.

The task force also plans to implement a strong component of career readiness to its curriculum, and hopes to partner with businesses in the community to give students real-world experiences and life skills.