Chicago Alternative School Pairs Studies with Psychotherapy

At last-chance high schools around the country, students are often faced with remedial classes and a strict behavioral code that can make improving personal outlook and performance especially difficult. Though schools for students who have been expelled from other institutions may earnestly hope to rehabilitate those who attend, many grapple with dismally low graduation rates and a prevalence of violence or other security issues. One such high school in Chicago, however, is providing an encouraging model for other administrators and teachers through its use of intensive psychotherapy services along with traditional learning. Recognizing that many of its students are faced with gang-related violence, family instability, financial difficulties, and other potentially emotionally influential experiences, Morton Alternative High School offers both individual and group-based sessions with a therapist or social worker to help students navigate their daily lives.

The program has shown considerable success. Students are given standardized tests to assess their psychological well-being both at the start and the conclusion of each year, and recent data analysis has shown that students on average feel significantly less depressed at the conclusion of the school year as compared to their emotional state when the year began. The school works with a relatively small number of students, and though some do not manage to graduate successfully, others show considerable progress, obtaining important qualifications, helping to teach classes, or even going on to an associated two-year college program.

The achievements of the school and its approach to working with expelled students has gained national recognition, and has also recently inspired a pilot program to develop a similar school in Michigan. As the potential of psychotherapy to help youths overcome personal difficulties and complete basic education becomes more clear, other institutions are likely to adopt the practice, helping to introduce mental health and well-being to a much wider audience.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Diana J

    Diana J

    February 10th, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    I used to teach at one of these last chance high schools in the inner city and it made me sad every single day to know what these kids were dealing with at home and on the streets/. The only place that they could find anyone who cared and any kind of support was at that school and most of them were so closed off by then that they did not know how to experience kindness when it was offered to them. They had grown up in situations that left them emotionally devoid of any feeling so if they hurt someone it made no impact on them whatsoever. I did burn out on teaching in this environment pretty quickly because I just could not take feeling sad all of the time and knowing that I was only a very small piece of a huge puzzle that I alone was not going to be able to solve.

  • kelly N.

    kelly N.

    February 10th, 2010 at 2:58 PM

    It is a very good idea indeed, especially considering how much family problems and other neighborhood problems affect a child mentally…and also bring their academics down and sometimes even pull them into the trouble.

  • Earl Rhodes

    Earl Rhodes

    February 10th, 2010 at 3:28 PM

    Most schools try and eliminate such students as soon as possible and try to keep others like that away. But for a school to have actually taken this up and to be working to help such students is great to know and they should definitely be given more encouragement from each one of us.

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