The middle school student sat quietly, holding his head down, obviously scared and afraid to look at the counselor who was conducting the student orientation at his new school. The counselor walked over to him, and asked what was wrong. “I don’t want to go to jail,” he muttered. The counselor replied that he was going to be fine, and despite the fact that county correctional institution was literally across the street, that wasn’t his destination.
I spent a day recently at Gwinnett County Public Schools Give Center East, one of the three alternative schools run by the state’s largest school system. Most of the 200 or so middle and high school students attending Give Center East were referred there following a disciplinary hearing as a result of improper behavior at their home school. Such was the case with the middle schooler I saw. Other students attend Give East voluntarily, wanting to earn their diplomas after dropping out. And some want to stay to earn their diploma, even after being told they could return to their home school.
Students are required to follow rules that are more restrictive than in other Gwinnett schools. The two most important are a ban on cell phones and a strict dress code. Students are permitted to wear solid, logo-free black or white collared shirts which must be kept tucked in, khaki pants, solid black shoes, and a black or brown belt. Students can also wear T shirts with the school’s logo. Makeup is out, along with any jewelry other than a watch or stud earrings.
When they arrive in the morning, students go through security screening, similar to what happens at an airport. Shoes and belts go into gray tubs, along with anything the student brings with them. Teachers examine the contents, looking for contraband cell phones and other items not permitted on campus, as the students go through the metal detector. After going through the security line, each student gets a free breakfast.
Give East is the only one of the 136 schools in the Gwinnett County school system to have security cameras in each classroom, in addition to the hallways.
If all of this sounds pretty grim, the teaching and learning itself is similar to what you would find at any Gwinnett middle or high school, although usually with smaller class sizes. A language arts teacher inspires her students to imagine the life of someone long dead, and write an epitaph for him or her. A math class learns how to reduce algebraic expressions. Students draw patterns freehand in an art class. High school students participate in a program called GEAR, which features online learning for some classwork, getting help from teachers as needed. Read more