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Alternative Education: Meeting Students Where They're At

A Look At Youth Chance High School

“For alternative education, I think traditional schools can take a little page from the book and really understand that students come in a specific way and move through the world a specific way to survive, and we have to support them in becoming our future...” -Sydney Hipple, Student Advocate, Youth Chance High School at Embarcadero YMCA

On Tuesday, May 31st, Youth Chance High School celebrated with friends, families, community members, staff and teachers as 12 students walked across the stage as new graduates. It was an unforgettable morning filled with laughter, tears, happiness and memorable moments.  

Youth Chance is one of four accredited alternative education support programs provided by the YMCA of San Francisco. It is a county community school that is operated through a partnership between the Embarcadero YMCA, San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), and San Francisco Department of Education. Our programs encourage and increase high school completion and connections to post-secondary pathways. Led by trauma-informed care professionals, students are positioned for long-term success and support.

Traditional School and Truancy

While traditional schools have been struggling to meet students’ mental, emotional and academic needs, the ongoing pandemic has made it more difficult by exacerbating the spike in truancy (or absenteeism). What these schools lack, Youth Chance and alternative education support programs give by creating equitable opportunities to empower young people to reach their full potential. 

“I feel like a lot of our students struggled a lot with attendance whether it’d be having to work or family things – traditional school just wasn’t a fit for them. I think in a lot of institutions, they have been burnt before... [and] in a safety net kind of way, our school has given them the opportunity to do better with support that isn’t always given in traditional school.” -Sydney

Here are some of the ways Youth Chance meets students where they’re at: 

“Our class isn’t as big (just one class) so there’s a lot of staff members that care and it’s easier for you to get support for your schoolwork and get your work done. -Anthony Thompson, 18 years old, graduate

“They met me on my phone. I can call them anytime [during] reasonable hours between like 10 in the morning to 10 at night and call at least one of the school staff and be like ‘Hey, I have this essay that I’m stuck on and I don’t know what to do’ and they’ll get on the phone to help me. -Illah Smith, 21 years old, graduate

“[They] put more attention to you [and] look if you’re progressing with your work [while] some schools over there will only look at you one time because they have other students to see. -Aelin Castanon-Yoc, 18 years old, graduate

A Closer Look At YSF and SFUSD Partnership

“...the YMCA [and] SFUSD partnership has a particular special synergy that I really think is magical and I really think it’s a model, and I’m incredibly appreciative of the fact that every time I call my YMCA colleagues and I say, ‘Hey, this are where our kids are struggling – any ideas?’ The answer is always like ‘Yes, we have a program for that, we have a plan for that, we have a potential solution for that’ and that has gone both ways. We get the call saying ‘Hey, we’re seeing our school programs, our adolescent programs struggling with this thing or navigating the bureaucracy in this way – can you help us?’ and that really is the kind of wrapping around our young people, that really makes an impact. It’s a partnership where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” -Alysse Castro, former Executive Director of SFUSD

Alternative Education Is The Future

“If I was thinking like a garden, all the students are the seeds and the flowers, the teachers are the sun, and Megan (social worker/work partner) and I are the water and soil. 

We give them the resources to grow, bloom and flourish but we don’t do it for them because we want them to learn those skills and learn them by themselves, especially because in the outside world the majority of our students are brown and Black students and it’s harder for them to get the same support and systems. So, we want to give them those tools to navigate those institutions and systems within our school. That’s one of the things that we continuously try to do and it’s not always easy because not all of them come on time, but we all do our best to support them and give them the resources in ways that traditional school does try to do but doesn’t always accomplish because there’s so many other things happening.” -Sydney 

Youth Chance is the first of a series of blogs taking a closer look at our alternative education programs. For more information on Youth Chance High School and our other alternative education programs such as Center for Academic Reentry (C.A.R.E), Truancy Assessment and Resource Center (TARC) and 5 Keys, you can learn more: or contact Demetrius Durham at