Options and Choices through Blended Learning at BHS
Last year, during our 25th anniversary celebration, BHS founder, Peter Burchell, told the audience "There is no neutral in schools. You are either improving, or starting to fail." This quote from a maverick educational innovator and pioneer resonated with me as BHS adapts and grows to meet the ever-changing needs and learning modes of our students. Just as Peter saw the need for a change in the system, and started the first Alternative School in the State, we seek to meet students' needs for 24-7 online access to learning with a blended learning model.
What is an "alternative" school? While there are many ideas and models, simply put it is a school for students for whom traditional schools don't work. For many of these students, attendance is a major challenge. We work hard to help students understand the importance of attendance (demonstrated here: https://getschooled.com/attendance-counts). September was "National Attendance Awareness Month," and Burchell participated, focused on improving attendance and offered attendance incentives (more resources here: http://www.attendanceworks.org/). This year an attendance team meets weekly, constantly analyzing data and finding ways to improve attendance. While we will not stop striving to improve attendance, we also ask this question: when they can't make it to school, can we bring the classroom to them?
This question is at the heart of blended learning. Burchell is all about offering flexibility, choices, and options for students and families. We look to modify schedules and offer courses in a variety of creative ways. When a student is at-risk of dropping out or has already done so, we look for ways to make school work, and this includes 24/7 access to learning online. Some students cannot attend on a regular school schedule, or attend regularly, for legitimate reasons, but still need the support and comfort of coming in to the building and working with teachers. If we connect them to support services and resources, and allow them to take some or all of their classes online, this is blended learning.
https://www.edmodo.com/), making assignments, notes, discussions, even quizzes available online. Students who miss school can now access materials and keep up online.
The next step in the spectrum is a blend of traditional courses with online classes facilitated in the classroom. Using a program called APEX, students can take most classes the district offers online, working under the direction of a teacher at school, with access to the material and the ability to move forward any time, any place. This year many BHS students are taking one or two classes on APEX and finding success. Our newly renovated library/cyber-center has over 60 laptops available for students to check out, and at any time of the day you will find them there, comfortably learning online.
On the other end of the spectrum, students can now work completely online. With the addition of Advance Path at BHS, an online school within a school, students can attend morning or afternoon sessions in a self-contained program and do all coursework online. Staffed with two teachers, a counselor, aide, and registrar, this is a structured, focused online program with a history of success- especially for "alternative" school students. There are currently nearly 100 students enrolled in the Advance Path program, and students have completed as many as eight courses over the first trimester!
Mr. Burchell, discussing the history of the school last spring said, "We were never afraid to change. We were never afraid to grow." Education is moving rapidly toward school choice and open access, and public schools must be flexible and willing to change in order to keep up. Just as Mr. B saw 25 years ago, we serve students best by staying in the continuous improvement cycle, adapting in order to provide students the best possible learning opportunities. Blended learning is another step in our continual quest to provide the best options, choices and learning alternatives for our students.
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