Word/Play at ALLPS
An Interview with Kelly Riley, English teacher at Fayetteville High School’s Agee-Lierly Life Preparation Services Center (ALLPS)
1. How long have you taught at ALLPS?
This is my 4th year at ALLPS/FHS.
2. How is ALLPS different than a mainstream high school?
ALLPS is the alternative program for Fayetteville High School. Our program is designed to support students whose needs are not met by traditional programs. Our students face a number challenges and hardships that cause them to struggle in school. For example, some students are single parents, some are dealing with family issues, some are victims of abuse, some work full-time and provide the main source of income for their families, some are homeless, etc. While there are students at the main campus that also face hardships, our students differ in that, in order to qualify as an alternative education student, they must exhibit at least two qualifying characteristics as outlined by Arkansas state law.
3. Have you ever taught in a mainstream school? If so, what is a fundamental difference between teaching in an alternative high school and mainstream?
Yes, I have taught at two different mainstream high schools. When I was in the M.A.T. program, I worked for a year as an intern teacher at both Bentonville High School and Rogers Heritage High School. I taught general education and AP courses at both schools. Prior to that, I taught several different composition courses at the University of Arkansas as a graduate student in the English Department.
4. What challenges are unique to teaching at ALLPS? What rewards are particularly unique?
Most of our students are dealing with difficult and often tragic life issues. Some of their stories are so devastating that I am amazed that they are able to make it to school at all. I am not sure I could be as strong as they are if I were dealing with similar issues. Furthermore, many of our students have had bad experiences in school prior to coming to ALLPS. A few of our students have not had the opportunity to attend the same school for an entire year because their families change residents frequently and, as a result, move in and out of various school districts in the area.
Naturally, our students suffer emotionally, often dealing with depression, frustration, anger, fear, anxiety, etc. At times, their emotions surface while they are in school, which can lead to problems. These students are often difficult to motivate and are sometimes reluctant to trust others because of their past experiences. Finally, many of our students struggle with attendance issues, which cause them to fall behind in school.
While teaching at ALLPS can be a challenge, it is also very rewarding. Frequently, I have the privilege of seeing students experience success in school for the first time in their lives. I love watching their intellectual curiosity bloom. I love it when a student bounds into my room first thing in the morning just so they can declare their new-found love for Shakespeare. I also like the fact that our program is very much like a family. Our students gain stability, care, love, discipline, and support that is often lacking in their lives outside of school. Because of this, the faculty and staff at ALLPS develop strong and lasting bonds with the students. In fact, I am still in contact with many of the students I taught my first year at ALLPS, and I am in contact with students from subsequent years as well. As I said, our program is a family, and I am proud to be a part of it.
5. What is your relationship to creative writing?
When I got my B.A. in English from the University of Arkansas, I took the extra credit hours required to obtain a degree with an emphasis in creative writing. I have also worked as an editor for a small publishing company, and I continue to write both fiction and creative non-fiction in my spare time. I have not had anything of significance published, but I hope to at some point in the future.