Effective online courses can meet the needs of every student
The number and variety of courses that can be offered in a small rural district is often limited. That was not acceptable to Erik Belcher, superintendent of Fayette Local School District in northwest Ohio.
“With an enrollment of 440 and a small staff, our in-house capacity is narrow,” he says. “Yet we still wanted our students to be able to explore foreign languages or even take career-oriented classes.”
Families in Fayette also like to have choice in the way their children are educated, says Belcher. Some students are homebound due to medical reasons, or needing to work on a family farm. Yet others travel frequently because of a parent’s transient job, or may be displaced due to natural disaster.
“It is important to reach the needs of all of our learners, not just the ones who are able to show up at our school building every day,” says Belcher.
A virtual learning solution seemed to be the only answer to this challenge, and so in 2012 Belcher and his team selected Connections Learning by Pearson. “Pearson is a reputable curriculum company and we liked the flexibility Connections Learning offers,” he says.
Connections Learning by Pearson gives administrators an opportunity to offer a range of academic opportunities to students through high-quality online classes. Students can choose from over 600 standards-aligned courses. For administrators, there is ongoing progress tracking and completion transcripts for every student in every course.
In 2014, Fayette was able to extend the reach of Connections Learning by winning a Straight A grant from the state of Ohio. Initially partnering with 16 other rural districts, now 37 school systems in Ohio and Michigan share Connections Learning resources in the Northwest Ohio Virtual Academy (NOVA) consortium.
“The consortium members truly help each other,” says Belcher. “If I have two students who want to take French, I cannot justify hiring a French teacher for our district. But the NOVA consortium can share a teacher.”
In addition to benefiting from knowledge-sharing with consortium districts, Fayette has first-rate assistance from the Pearson team. “We have a dedicated contact person from Connections Learning, who I consider a friend, that we can turn to with all questions and issues,” says Belcher. “There is a clear structure of support.”
All Fayette students are assigned a period each day to go to the virtual lab, which is set up coffeehouse-style with comfortable chairs and couches, to work on their Connections Learning courses. Teachers facilitate this learning, and guidance counselors work with students to choose their courses to make sure they stay on track to graduate. “We value relationships in this district,” says Belcher. “So whether face-to-face or online, we still want to foster relationships between teachers and students.”
Fayette students are graduating with the skills necessary to maneuver college classes. At many higher ed institutions, online courses are mandatory, and pre-exposure to learning in this environment makes for a smoother transition, says Belcher.
Students are also getting pre-exposure to career paths they are considering. There is a medical terminology course that students who are interested in being a nurse or doctor can take. Not being knowledgeable enough about terminology is a top reason students are denied admission into programs down the road, says Belcher.
“We are giving them a leg up while they are still in high school,” he says. “The goal is to help students and improve how we educate.”
For more information, visit www.connectionslearning.com
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