New Alpha Academy Principal Ayo Alfred has a love for working with students who don’t find success in a traditional classroom – students who are often misunderstood or underestimated …
New Alpha Academy Principal Ayo Alfred has a love for working with students who don’t find success in a traditional classroom – students who are often misunderstood or underestimated because of their struggles with schooling.
Alfred was installed this semester as the new leader of Warren County School District’s alternate education pathway at Alpha. She brings over 21 years of education experience and a clear vision for what she wants to provide to her students.
“The first thing that has to happen is students need to want to be here. ... When students come to an alternative school, it’s because at some point they’ve realized traditional school does not work for them,” Alfred explained. “So it’s very important that we create something different for them at the ‘Alpha House.’ It has to be something that is more homey, more family-type atmosphere.”
To that end, Alfred’s first goal was ensuring that the Alpha facility off of Armory Road is set up to be a place where students feel appreciated, where they can come in for breakfast with one another, have access to the resources they need, and are welcomed to provide input for their own education.
“It has to be a place where, when they come here, they don’t feel like ‘We’re getting the leftovers of the district,’ where they’re also getting a nice building, and they’re proud to point at that building and say ‘That’s my school,’” Alfred said.
The new principal worked for 17 years in the Ferguson-Florissant School District, and then three years in Rockwood School District, serving most of that time in those schools’ alternate education programs. She developed a love for creating individualized programs to meet each student’s needs.
Often, she noted that struggles in school went hand-in-hand with behavioral challenges that were getting students suspended. Learning to address their social-emotional struggles, and directly asking students how the school could better serve them, helped keep those students in school.
“You find success when you build on what the students are asking for,” Alfred said. “That doesn’t mean they’re running your program, it just means that you’re listening to them.”
For example, getting visits from professionals in careers that students are interested in hearing from is an engaging way to energize them toward learning what they need to know for that profession. Alfred said one of her objectives for her first year of school is to build involvement from community and professional organizations who can help provide the students with tangible goals for after they graduate, things that will motivate them to succeed.
She said one of the great benefits of Alpha Academy is that it provides students with flexible programming that allows them to specifically address school subjects where they’re struggling, rather than having to retake a whole class where they already know much of the information. But because each student’s needs are different, Alpha’s small staff has to be highly flexible, as well.
“The blessing I have is the teachers here are highly experienced in alternative ed. They, too, have creative ways of assisting students,” Alfred said. “The number-one requirement to work in this program is you’ve got to be flexible.”
Warren County R-III Superintendent Dr. Gregg Klinginsmith said he was thrilled that the district found Alfred.
“Warren County R-III is really lucky to have someone with such experience come to us. We’re happy to recruit such talent,” Klinginsmith said. “The passion just comes out anytime you talk to her for just two minutes. You realize how much she cares about students.
“Her strong focus on relationships, making Alpha a family-oriented place, is what we’re looking for it to be,” he continued. “We’ve got to give these kids a different look, a different feel of what high school can be, because we want them to get a quality education.”