In 2002, Options Schools began as one of the first charter schools in the state of Indiana. The school works with sixth- through 12th-grade students who are struggling in the traditional classroom setting.
“We find that a lot of people think that because we are an alternative school, we primarily serve students with behavioral challenges, but a larger percentage of our students are struggling with academic and mental health challenges,” says Michael Dunagan, principal at Options Charter School. “We are not for all students. We don’t exist to serve every single kid. We exist to serve those students who are struggling at the traditional schools.”
Originally located in Carmel, they added a second campus in 2006 in Noblesville after increasing demand. As technology advanced, it became clear that there was a need throughout the Hoosier state for the school’s services, and in 2013 Options Indiana, a distance education program that became their virtual school, was designed. In the past couple of years, Options Schools began a partnership with the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism, with locations in Fishers and Kokomo, to work with students on the autism spectrum.
“We partnered with them to provide education for those students and families who were struggling with balancing school and a child’s needs for therapy,” Dunagan says.
The organization’s leaders wanted to grow the middle school program and continue to expand the high school program, while still maintaining a small school environment, and this fall they will open another location in Westfield.
“We needed more space, yes, but more so we needed to design a building that was built around our needs as opposed to transforming a space to try and fit our needs,” says Dunagan, noting that there is a high school and middle school pod area. “This 16,000-square-foot campus is designed by us, for us, in the way that we do things.”
Initially they will serve around 160 students, though they have the capacity to house up to 220. In the past year the organization served more than 700 students statewide in 129 different school districts.
At Options, the staff members work with students who might be slipping through the cracks in larger schools because they can’t get the individualized attention they need. The student-teacher ratio is 15:1, as opposed to traditional schools where that ratio is often 30:1. One of the major differences between Options and other charter schools is that they are an alternative school that exists to complement the district.
“We aren’t in competition for students,” Dunagan says. “We’re here to be an additional resource for the local school districts so they can use their resources more effectively.”
Students who excel at Options are those who struggle with severe anxiety or get overwhelmed when faced with a massive workload. That’s why they do a block-style schedule with four classes per day, rather than seven or eight. As a result, anxiety diminishes.
Every student completes a senior institute course and capstone project that requires them to partner with a nonprofit organization and set up a project that focuses on one of three areas – advocacy, fundraising or direct service. The project, which includes presentations, writing and researching, hones their organizational, communication and professional skills. Plus, they feel a sense of accomplishment by giving back to their community.
Options partners with the J Everett Light Career Center as well as Ivy Tech Community College to provide opportunities for students to earn certifications in different career fields such as welding, automotive and culinary arts. They also offer dual credit opportunities for students in partnership with Ivy Tech, for simultaneously high school and college credit. In addition, they partner with various organizations like ABC Construction, through which students can earn high school credit while getting on-the-job training for different career fields.
Nate is a student who decided to attend Options after seeing how well his sister responded to it.
“I was having bad social anxiety and had bad attendance, and they helped me out a lot here,” says Nate, who is grateful for the strong teacher connections. “The teachers really care about the students here. You’re not one of thousands of kids. You’re one of 100 so the teachers know you well.”
John, a parent of an Options student, says he’s thrilled with the results he has seen in his daughter after she enrolled at Options.
“We’ve seen her grades go up and her homework get completed,” John says. “We’ve seen her entire demeanor change. Options is a place she feels comfortable in. She comes in and is happy. It’s the right place for her.”
Options Schools Westfield is located at 17721 Gunther Boulevard. For more information, call 317-815-2098 or visit optionsschools.org.