How to Find the Best Alternative Schools Near You (Categories & Options)

By Dr. Kelley Mayr
How to Find the Best Alternative Schools Near You (Categories & Options)

With the traditional school system being tough for many kids, more parents are turning to alternative schools. However, the term “alternative school” is broad as it can include:

  • Different types of establishments, like private, charter, or boarding schools.
  • Different ways of providing educational services, like fully online or in a hybrid setting.
  • Various non-standard approaches, like one-to-one, competency-based learning, the Montessori method, special education, or even homeschooling.

At the same time, parents look for alternative schools for a variety of reasons.

Some want to ensure their at-risk child gets more attention in a smaller classroom, so they can overcome a learning difference or excel at their favorite subjects. Others are looking for more flexible schedules or a better social environment for their kids.

These complex needs, coupled with the massive variety of alternative schools can make finding the right option difficult and time-consuming.

In this guide, we’ll explore:

We’ll also discuss Fusion Academy — our personalized alternative school for grades 6–12 — and how its unique one-to-one learning model benefits students. If you’re interested in learning more, visit our website or hear directly from parents and students

Alternative Schools: What They Are, Types, and Differences

Any learning institution that deviates from the traditional public school system — including private, charter, and boarding schools — can technically be considered an alternative school.

However, a true alternative offers more than the standard learning approach in a different establishment. Most alternative schools and learning centers minimize or eliminate traditional elements like:

  • Attending a large school setting or classes in person Monday–Friday.
  • Completing additional tasks outside of school (i.e., homework).
  • Focusing on grades as the primary gauge for a student’s performance.
  • Memorizing and repeating lessons as cornerstones of the education process.

Additionally, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing the right alternative school for your child — it all depends on their unique needs and learning styles. That’s why it’s important to understand some of the different types of alternative schools available.

For example, we can differentiate schools based on their teaching method.

At Fusion Academy, we employ one-to-one learning, where each class consists of one student and one teacher. 

We’ll explore the method in detail later but its main benefit is the ability to completely tailor the learning experience to each student’s needs, schedules, and preferences. It also helps students learn better and enjoy their time at school.

You might have also heard about alternative schools with different learning approaches, like:

  • Montessori, which focuses on children’s natural interests and activities via hands-on learning rather than formal teaching. This method was developed early in the 20th century and has become among the most widely recognized learning approaches today.
  • Waldorf, which aims to develop students’ intellectual, artistic, and practical skills, with a focus on imagination and creativity. The first Waldorf school opened more than 100 years ago in Germany and since then the approach has gained popularity all over the world.
  • Reggio Emilia, which is a student-centered and self-guided curriculum that uses experimental learning. This approach was developed after World War II by pedagogist Loris Malaguzzi.
  • Competency-based, which focuses on outcomes and real-world performance. With this method, students demonstrate skills and knowledge in order to achieve specific competencies, instead of being put into classes solely based on their age.

Some alternative schools rely on one of these philosophies exclusively. However, these learning methods are also selectively used in many education programs in both public and private schools.

We can also differentiate between alternative schools based on the way courses are taught, such as:

  • Fully online, where learners don’t have to attend a physical campus at all. These schools typically combine both synchronous (e.g., Zoom classes) and asynchronous (e.g., students watching courses on their own time) learning.
  • Hybrid (sometimes called blended), where students learn in-person some days and online on others. In some cases, certain classes are taught online, while others are in-person.

5 of The Best Alternative Schools in the USA

In this section, we’ll explore five of the best US-based alternative schools. Each one we’ve selected offers a different approach — including one-to-one learning, competency-based, online-only, and more — so you can get a feel for their strengths and the learning opportunities they can provide to your child.

1. Fusion Academy: One-to-One Alternative Middle School and High School

Fusion Academy: The World's Most Personalized Private School

  • Grades: 6–12.
  • Location: More than 80 middle and high school locations across the US, plus a 100% online school — Fusion Global Academy.

Fusion Academy is our accredited personalized private school for grades 6 to 12 that uses a one-to-one learning model.

This unique learning environment enables our teachers to create extremely personalized learning plans tailored to each student’s pace, preferences, and life story. Fusion campuses don’t look like traditional schools. Instead, the cozy atmosphere and inviting setting promote connection, acceptance, and comfort for all students.

As a true alternative to both traditional public and private schools, Fusion offers:

  • Unparalleled flexibility.
  • A drastically different learning environment.
  • Programs designed to support students’ social and emotional development.

Whether you need full-time enrollment or extra academic support, our one-to-one approach can help your child learn better, form great relationships with their teachers, and actually enjoy the learning process.

While classes are one-on-one, students still get a rich school experience with friends, classmates, social clubs, field trips, and more. We also offer small group classes when necessary, depending on students’ needs.

According to our 2023 Education Impact Report:

  • 97.9% of 2022 graduates who wanted to attend a 4-year university or college were accepted. The ability to tailor the education process to each student’s needs and preferences makes Fusion an excellent college preparatory environment.
  • 98% of parents report that their child has positive relationships with their teachers.
  • 90% of parents report that their child enjoys learning at Fusion Academy.

Fusion Academy: 2023 Impact Report Statistics

Complete Personalization with 1-to-1 Learning

Classes at Fusion consist of one student and one teacher. This is in stark contrast to public schools and even other alternative schools where classes typically range from at least five to upwards of 30 children.

This dedicated one-to-one learning process ensures every student gets the attention they need. 

Teachers can get to know their students well and then personalize the school program and learning pace to their needs. They also aim to create a social environment where students make friends based on shared interests, as we’ll discuss in the next section.

Here’s what Frank C., a parent with two children attending Fusion, had to say about our process:

“We have been with Fusion for eight years seeing my daughter graduate after attending 7th–12th grade and my son now in his third year. Fusion’s flexibility and ability to bring the best out of each student through an individualized schedule and experience are extraordinary.”

You can also read and watch the stories of other parents and students on our website’s testimonials page.

After students enroll, we provide two assessments — Measures of Academy Progress (MAP®) and Mindprint. These evaluations serve as a basis for developing a Formal Education plan that’s personalized to each student.

On-going students are assessed formally and informally to ensure learning is taking place. Students also complete MAP testing annually, where their progress is measured against national peers.

As a result, Fusion Academy student achievement scores grow 33% more in a school year than their peers nationally. Additionally, students feel like they’re much more engaged and form more positive relationships with their teachers after attending our academy.

Impact Data: Academic Engagement and Positive Relationships Before & After Fusion Academy

Because of Fusion’s design, children from all sorts of backgrounds and interests fit in very well. For example:

  • The small, intimate settings are well-suited for students with learning differences like ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, and anxiety. Our teachers can divide work into smaller tasks, use mnemonic devices, provide visual descriptions, and employ many other techniques to ensure each student with a learning difference gets the care and attention they require.
  • We have plenty of students who use the one-to-one learning model to excel in subjects with our Honors and AP course options. Again, the extra attention and personalization ensure gifted students can dive much deeper into the subject matter and progress much faster.
  • We also have many student-athletes and actors who attend Fusion to get quality academics coupled with the flexibility they need to focus on their passion. 

Our personalized approach allows Fusion students to prepare for post-secondary education in a highly-specialized way. Our teachers look into each individual student’s post-high school goals and help them build portfolios, research different colleges and types of study, and much more.

Homework Café for Focused Work and Social Interactions

Each Fusion campus has one quiet Homework Café and one social Homework Cafe, which serve two essential functions:

  1. They enable students to complete their homework in a quiet, focused environment.
  2. They ensure that students can socialize, make friends, and follow their extracurricular interests.

The time to visit the Homework Cafés is built into students’ schedules and is equal to the time they spend in class. As a result, they don’t have to go home with hours of homework, which can drastically improve their mental health and free up their time at home.

We know from experience that this can be a big benefit not only for students but for their families as well. For example, Kerri Assell, whose son attends Fusion, had this to say about his experience:

“Our son’s attitude toward school has completely changed since enrolling in Fusion…Having his homework completed at school is a huge bonus and gives us peace at home — gone are the nights of fighting over homework”.

Put simply, the lack of work to do at home, combined with the one-to-one approach and rich social opportunities, turn school from a source of daily stress to a place kids are enthusiastic about.

Next, the Social Homework Cafés are where clubs meet, student meetings are held, and where students can interact with their peers between classes.

The Director of Homework Café oversees the spaces and works with students to facilitate activities that are interesting to them. For example, they can start various clubs for chess, film, photography, D&D, yoga, running, and so on. They can also play board or video games, have lunch together, or do any other activity that enriches their social experience.

Social activities are also not limited to the school premises. They differ depending on the Fusion campus but common activities include:

  • Field trips.
  • Nature hikes.
  • Indoor rock climbing.
  • Visits to local colleges.
  • Volunteering at a local animal shelter.

In short, student life at Fusion is well-rounded in terms of the focus on academic work and fun social activities that build life skills and friendships.

Flexible Schedules & Enrollment Options for You and Your Child’s Needs

While many alternative schools offer some type of scheduling flexibility, the majority accommodate every student’s needs, even in a small class. This is another area where the one-to-one thrives as it offers an unmatched level of flexibility for students.

First, students can enroll in any class they’re interested in at any time of the year. They don’t have to wait for the start of a traditional semester.

They also get flexible schedules — for example, depending on their or their parents’ needs, they can start school earlier or later in the day and have classes only on certain days. This isn’t possible in most other schools, even ones claiming to provide flexibility.

Plus, Fusion Academy offers various academic programs for:

  • Full-time students.
  • Part-time students, who already have another full-time program but want to supplement with premium one-to-one classes or academic support.
  • Classes for credit, for students who need help making up a grade or getting ahead in a specific subject.
  • Post-secondary counseling, for students looking to find the right post-high school path. Our dedicated counselors provide personalized guidance to students across activities ranging from extracurricular selection, resume creation, school exploration, course selection, SAT and ACT testing timeline and practice test support, and much more.
  • Tutoring, for students who need additional support in a subject. The one-to-one learning model is ideal for filling learning gaps, building confidence, and general skill-building in subjects such as Algebra, Chemistry, English, Geography, History, Physics, and many others.

Thanks to this versatility, some students start by only taking one or two classes at Fusion, while attending their school of record. Over time, many of these students end up transferring to Fusion Academy full-time due to their improved academic performance, better student experience, and other benefits of one-to-one learning.

Students can attend Fusion in person, online, or in a hybrid model. For the in-person element, there are 80+ middle and high school locations across the country, including in California, Washington, Colorado, Texas, Florida, New York, Massachusetts, and more.

You can find a campus near you on our website.

Fusion Academy: Find a Campus Near You

There’s also Fusion Global Academyour online school where students and teachers interact one-on-one in real-time. 

We offer a 100% virtual campus, which students can leverage during their entire middle and high school years or only during certain periods. For example, if your family travels often, your child can attend Fusion online and then move on to a physical campus (or vice versa).

Even students who only use a physical campus can benefit from our online options. If they want to attend a certain class at a specific time of day but there’s no available teacher right now, we can ensure they can still take the class online with a teacher from another campus. Then, once a teacher becomes available at their campus, they can start taking the class in person.

Finally, our personalized approach also extends to students’ tuition payments, which are priced competitively to other elite private schools. Whether your child is a full-time student or enrolled in another program (e.g., tutoring, classes for credit, a summer program, etc.), you get the most personalized tuition based on the classes they’re taking.

If you want to learn more about Fusion Academy and how it can benefit your child, visit our website and request information from our team.

2. Sora Schools: Online-Only Private School

Sora Schools: Private, Online Learning for 6th-12th Grade

  • Grades: 6–12.
  • Location: Virtual.

Sora is an accredited online middle school and high school. It’s one of the most popular and highly-rated online-only alternative schools in the US. The school focuses on equipping students with the skills they need to thrive in the modern world, instead of the traditional school approach of repetition and rote memorization.

Sora offers 400+ interest-based classes every six weeks, as well as a mastery-based assessment system that rewards trial and error. The school also tries to connect families in the same areas for local meet-ups, although the education process is 100% online.

Lastly, tuition at Sora is $12,900 annually and there’s a flexible tuition program starting as low as $3,600 per year depending on the family’s financial circumstances.

3. Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA): Competency-Based Learning Model

Boston Day and Evening Academy in Boston, Massachusetts

  • Grades: The academy serves students between the ages of 16–22.
  • Location: Boston, Massachusetts.

Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) is a competency-based alternative school where students’ grade level is determined by their skills, not their age. Their course modules are 11 weeks long. Students also don’t fail classes but have to progress from course to course based on their demonstrated competence. This approach prioritizes mastery of a subject rather than time-based progression.

BDEA also offers a blended learning program for students who want to take advantage of online learning. The program is run by one student support staff member and three teachers. Students have the option to attend fully online on Mondays and Wednesdays while being required to attend in person on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays for academic support and community meetings.

4. ACE Leadership High School: Public Charter School Focused on Real World Projects

ACE Leadership High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico

  • Grades: 9–12, plus an evening program for students aged 18–22.
  • Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico.

ACE Leadership High School is a public charter school that focuses on preparing students for success in life and work. The school patterns with leaders in New Mexico’s architecture, construction, and engineering industries to help students acquire useful skills in those areas.

The days at ACE start with a morning meeting for announcements, updates, and recognition of birthdays and student achievements. Students then head to advisory to get support and coaching around topics like college, career exploration, reading, social practices, and more. The rest of the day is followed by morning and afternoon projects, elective subjects (like Electricity 101, Digital Design, and more), and after-school projects in areas like welding, drywall, and cooking.

5. Rumsey Hall School: Junior Boarding and Day School

Rumsey Hall School in Washington, Connecticut

  • Grades: Pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and grades 1–9.
  • Location: Washington, Connecticut.

Rumsey Hall is an independent, coed junior boarding and day school. It offers a wide range of programs for children of all ages, including:

  • Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, where children can explore their curiosity via active experiences, like exploration-based play and teacher-led investigation.
  • Grades 1–5, where children study in a small environment, with a focus on inquiry, interconnection, and the development of independence.
  • Grades 6–9, where children take a balanced curriculum that includes math, science, English, foreign language, history, and co-curricular offerings in the arts, technology, and character skills. Classes are held Monday through Friday, with an average class size of 12.

Tuition varies depending on the program, with pre-kindergarten being $25,600/year, kindergarten and grades 1 and 2 — $29,150/year, and grades 3 to 9 starting at $35,600/year.

60 Other Alternative Schools by State

As you can see, there are several different alternative education options in most school districts in the US. With thousands of options and a plethora of learning models, it’s impossible for us to provide an exhaustive, fully vetted list of all alternative schools.

However, now that you’ve explored some of the main types of alternative schooling, you should be ready to evaluate schools and make the best decision for your child.

Here are some of the most well-known choices in every state:

Alternative Schools in Arizona

Alternative Schools in California

Alternative Schools in Colorado

Alternative Schools in Florida

Alternative Schools in Georgia

Alternative Schools in Hawaii

Alternative Schools in Illinois

Alternative Schools in Louisiana

Alternative Schools in Maryland

Alternative Schools in Massachusetts

Alternative Schools in Michigan

Alternative Schools in Minnesota

Alternative Schools in New Jersey

Alternative Schools in New York

Alternative Schools in North Carolina

Alternative Schools in Oregon

Alternative Schools in Pennsylvania

Alternative Schools in Tennessee

Alternative Schools in Texas

Alternative Schools in Utah

Alternative Schools in Virginia

Alternative Schools in Washington

Alternative Schools in Wisconsin

If you’re interested in finding an alternative school that gives your child the attention they need to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally, we highly recommend Fusion Academy. Our unique one-to-one learning model provides unparalleled flexibility and personalization, while still offering a rich student experience filled with social interactions. Click here to connect with our team and learn more.

About the Author

Senior Director of Accreditation

Fusion Education Group

As the Senior Director of Accreditation for Fusion Education Group (FEG), Dr. Kelley Mayr oversees accreditation for over 80+ Fusion Academy campus locations across the U.S., in addition to FEG’s online international school, Fusion Global Academy, and Barnstable Academy, a private school located in Oakland, New Jersey – all who specialize in middle through high school one-to-one classroom and/or small group learning. All FEG schools have a strong emphasis placed on a compassionate approach to highly personalized, social, emotional, and academic support and growth, tailored for each student’s distinctive needs. Kelley loves to help schools “tell their story”, and has a passion for celebrating unique schools, students, teachers, and administrators by utilizing the accreditation process of continuous improvement, through research-based, reflective practices and strategic planning implementation. She is based in southern California and possesses California teaching and administrative credentials, as well as a master’s degree from the University of La Verne and a Doctorate from the University of Southern California in Education.