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Bellevue Big Picture School: Bellevue Alternative Middle and High School Slated to Start in the Fall

The new school, Bellevue Big Picture, would have a different format than Robinswood Middle and High School, which closed last year after losing accreditation. First information night slated for today.

Bellevue School District plans a new sixth through 12th grade alternative school program that will replace Robinswood Middle and High School, .

The new school, called Bellevue Big Picture, is slated to start in the fall with sixth and ninth graders and is designed for students who "may feel lost in a large comprehensive secondary school," according to Bellevue School District officials. The school plans to enroll up between 50 - 75 students in both grade levels, according to principal Bethany Spinler.

Applications are being accepted now, and if the school has more applicants than space, the district will implement a lottery system, with free and reduced lunch eligibility and geographic location as a tie-breaker, she said. (Information session details are listed at the end of this article.)

Unlike Robinswood, where many students were referred by teachers after running into problems at one of the district's high schools or middle schools, Bellevue Big Picture is designed to be a sixth through 12th grade program largely driven by parent choice.

"That's a key design feature of lots of school models we looked at: there wasn't any screening criteria. Students choose to be at the school because they believe it's a good fit for them," she said.

School board president Chris Marks asked whether Bellevue Big Picture would replicate the district's existing efforts to help kids succeed.

"This is trying to make a place for kids who to be successful who are not being successful in other programs," Marks said, as part of her question to Spinler. The students who do well with Advanced Placement classes, electives and sports, "that student is not really the student that this is all about," Marks added.

Spinler told the school board that the elementary school counselors and teachers would help families identify whether their child would be a good fit for the school.

"Absolutely, first and foremost, which framed our research, kids who are struggling in a traditional school system: non-traditional learners, low-income students, special education students, the first-language learners, who have struggled, kids who are identified in our achievement gap and the achievement gap throughout the country," she said. The Big Picture program was selected because it was successful for those students, she said.

"But I don't want to pigeonhole it to any type of student," Spinler added.

The school addresses the needs of non-traditional learners and students who might fall through the cracks at a large comprehensive high school by having students work closely with their teachers over several years, requiring high school students participate in internships, having flexibility in instruction for students to learn at their own pace, and a governing system that includes advisory boards of parents and students, said Spinler, who gave a presentation to the Bellevue School District Tuesday night.

The school will adopt the teaching philosophy of the Big Picture Learning organization, a network of schools. A major part of Bellevue Big Picture involves project-based learning, and the school is designed to involve learning outside the classroom, including once-a-week field trips for sixth graders and internships for high school students.

She said that the school would not be a good fit for every student.

"We won't have sports programs.... We won't have 30 different electives for students," she said. "It's very focused."

The school would be a good fit for "non-traditional learners who don't want or don't need all that other part of the comprehensive schooling experience."

According to Spinler, adopting the Big Picture Learning philosophy doesn't cost the district a membership fee, though the organization offers training, conferences and professional development opportunities.

"It's what we would need for any model that we would implement," she said.

When asked outside the meeting how families can tell whether a student may be a good fit for an alternative school, Spinler said that families often know.

"Oh, they know," Spinler said.

Spinler said that Bellevue Big Picture is designed to be most successful for a student enrolled throughout sixth through 12th grade. However, students that develop issues in high school would be admitted in the upper grades if there is room available, she said.

Alternative Program Closed Last year

Last May, Bellevue closed Robinswood Middle and High School after the Puget Sound Educational Service District said Robinswood would not get accreditation for the 2010-11 school year.

In a district where five out of six high schools were recognized nationally for their academic achievements, Robinswood was a school designed to help students stay on track to graduate high school.

The classes at Robinswood were smaller than at the other high and middle schools. Students had four classes at a time instead of the usual seven and the year was broken into nine-week quarters, which allowed students to finish the classes more quickly and gain the credit.

Students who had been in the program are, in many cases, back at their local high schools with extra attention and support, such as smaller classes and help with homework and study skills.

Students could finish high school and get a diploma from Robinswood, but often they transfered back to their high school once they got on track.

However, district officials have said that because many students went back to their original high schools, Robinswood did not get credit for students who were successful in the programs. Last school year, Robinswood was one of 47 Washington schools placed on a state list of "persistently lowest-achieving schools."

Information sessions

Information sessions on Bellevue Big Picture are being scheduled as follows:

  • 7-8 p.m. Jan. 19 (today), , 12111 NE 1st Street
  • 7-8 p.m. Jan. 24, , 12111 NE 1st Street
  • 6-7 p.m. Jan. 25, , 14509 SE Newport Way.
  • 6-7 p.m. Jan. 31, , 16000 NE 10th St.
  • 7-8 p.m. Feb. 3, , 12111 NE 1st Street
  • 7-8 p.m. Feb. 9, , 12111 NE 1st Street.
  • 6-7 p.m. Feb. 10, , 15230 Lake Hills Blvd.
Janet Delgado January 31, 2011 at 04:05 AM
I do not think it does completely. I have a child who I thought would fit but a question came when I read sports is not an option. Actually, I do not know if physical ed means sports but if it is physical ed is what my child needs some time during the day so that he can focus more and release energy. Please correct me if I am wrong. Thank you
BSDmom January 31, 2011 at 05:17 AM
Everything sound pretty good at the info night I attended, but now after reading this article, I feel like it's a school meant for those who are academically, socially and/or behaviorally less capable. I was hoping for just the complete opposite.
Venice Buhain January 31, 2011 at 05:34 PM
Hi, Janet: I don't know if this completely answers your question, but your child can participate in sports that are offered in your home middle or high school (i.e., the school that serves your neighborhood). Also, health and fitness credits are state high school graduation requirements. BSDmom: From my speaking with the principal and from their materials, Bellevue Big Picture School can offer classes for students who are educationally advanced. It is just a different school model from a comprehensive middle or high school, for families who don't want a traditional high school experience.
R January 31, 2011 at 05:49 PM
in most alternative schools, students are participating in sports at their home school i.e. if you attend this alternative school and your home school is Bellevue HS and you play football, then you will play football for Bellevue HS as long as you meet all the criteria, i.e. min. gpa, etc
EastgateMom April 04, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Hi BSDmom, I had the same reaction as you. I did not attend Info. Night. I was eager to enroll my kids but this article has me rethinking my decision. Have you discovered anything new? Thank you

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