"You have a lower student-to-adult ratio in the classroom," said program chairwoman Susan Doran. "We strive to make the alternative program a place where students can get as strong a learning environment as possible."
The program is similar to a regular school curriculum but with additional aide time and greater parental involvement. Teaching aides spend 20.4 hours a week in the program compared to nine hours a week in the regular classrooms. Students get instructions on regular subjects plus learn Spanish.
Doran said students develop close bonds with each other in the program because they stay together consistently over the years. And teachers can get better gauge the students and see where they need improvement, Doran said. The students also score high on state exams, she noted.
"When you have the same group of kids from year to year, you get to know them and work together and work as a cohesive group," Doran said. "We are one big happy family group."
"Teachers confer with each other," she added. "It's great."
Parent contributions fund the program. The lower grades, K-3, cost $1,070 a year and the upper grades cost $840. Doran said the costs are subject to change.
Vista Grande's alternative program began in the spring of 1984, after it was approved by the district school board. The governing board of any school district may establish and maintain one or more alternative schools within the district, according to state law. Neil Armstrong Elementary School in San Ramon is the only other school in the district with an alternative program, which covers grades K-3.
Students in grades 1 to 5 can apply at any time during the year for the Vista Grande program, but kindergarteners must register Feb. 25.
The program has a total of 136 students, said Vista Grande Principal Pat Hansen. It receives 70 to 100 applicants for its kindergarten and takes 20 students based on a lottery system. Only students from the San Ramon Valley Unified School District can apply to the program, and siblings get priority.
Hansen said students who don't get in are put on a waiting list and notified if there is an opening.
"The alternative program is like icing on the cake," Doran said.
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