Hybrid Blended Learning School Improves Graduation Rate
As an educator I had a chance to work with a large number of students who had left the Detroit, Michigan school system prior to graduation. My job was to start two new schools and figure out a way to reduce the number of students who were not going to graduate. I was tasked with doing whatever was possible to help them complete their high school education.
During meetings with these at-risk students, often taking place in their homes, I learned first hand the often emotionally charged reasons that caused these young adults to give up on their education. Their pressing life challenges helped me realize non-traditional options were going to be necessary if I was going to be able to get them back into an educational program.
Creating educational options for kids who have given up on graduating is a must at a time when a lack of a diploma disqualifies job seekers from most of the U.S. jobs offering a substantial future. In most cases the kids who left the classroom had given up hope because of the lack of flexibility the traditional classroom setting offers.
Why is Flexibility Important?
Suspension or expulsion Giving birth or fathering a child Being part of a peer group in which most friends did not graduate Experiencing a major mental health issue, (e.g., depression or anxiety) Not feeling academically prepared for school Homelessness Moving homes (mobility) These threats result in a lack of hope. A lack of hope can make the traditional classroom setting uncomfortable at best. In many cases, when a flexible educational option that offers one on one support to work through the social and emotional issues is offered to these students, they gladly re-engage in their education.
One student’s story provides a compelling example: Zach was having a tough time keeping up in the classroom with his math. Even though his teacher would patiently take the time to answer his questions, the snickers and sighs from his peers made him quit asking for help. He continued to fall behind until he reached a point where he thought it would be impossible to catch up. It was at that time that he simply stopped going to school.
I met with Zach and asked him if he would be interested in a new educational program that was being set up in conjunction with his high school. He wanted to know how it worked and here is the explanation I gave him.
Your school has set up a satellite blended learning center that is very unique. You will be given a laptop computer that you can use while you’re at home and you can drop into the learning center when it fits your schedule. At the center there will be other students in attendance but you will all be working independently and on different subjects. While teachers are always available at the center, they will not be “teaching” at the head of a classroom. They are there to support you and answer your questions or provide one on one tutoring to help you succeed. They are there if you need them and so you can ask them questions, which makes it easy for you to work independently at the centers. The center has set hours but you can come and go whenever it works for you. You also have the option of doing all your work and communications through your laptop if that is your preference and if you are having success with that method. We find most students complete work at a faster pace when they can come work in the center.
Even though you will not have regular classroom attendance your hours of study and testing will all be kept track of through our computer program. If you need help, you can always contact a teacher through a phone call, text, Skype, e-mail or come into the center for a personal one on one meeting. The biggest benefit other students appreciate about the program is that you get to learn at your own pace. Most students also appreciate being able to work on one subject at a time and focus on that subject until it’s complete, usually in about 3 weeks.
Zach jumped at the chance and, at his present pace; he will be graduating with a diploma in a few months!
Young adults, who don’t feel comfortable in the traditional classroom setting, need options if they are going to successfully complete their education. Hybrid blended learning centers are allowing students to excel even though many of them had formerly lost hope and dropped out.
Three primary factors are required to make a hybrid blended learning school successful. They are:
Access to Certified Teachers – a hybrid school has to be more than simply giving a student a computer and access to the internet. There must be consistent two-way interaction with a certified and highly qualified teacher. It is imperative that the teachers are skilled at building relationships. Teachers who have “counselor hearts’ are the most effective when working with students who have left school. They are the best at helping these young adults through the social and emotional challenges that are getting in the way of their learning.
Access to Learning Centers – a learning center is the real world component of the online education. They provide a safe place for students that are conducive to student learning. Staffed with highly qualified certified teachers, they can be used whenever convenient for an enrolled student. Students can come into the center for quiet study, work at their own pace, or get personalized help from the teachers on duty.
Accountability – a record of all learning, study time and testing must be maintained through the system to produce verifiable and measurable educational outcomes.
A recent survey of the students enrolled in the Success Virtual Learning Centers revealed that 91% enjoyed this unique educational experience. Students who had given up any hope of an education are graduating because an option to the typical classroom setting is now available.
Dallas Bell is currently President of Michigan High School Options and with his team has created virtual blended learning centers for 15 local school systems in Michigan