Blended learning programs like the new Warrior Academy at Winamac Community High School offer alternatives for students, who struggle in traditional classroom settings, to recover their grades, enabling them to graduate on time, by allowing the teacher to tailor classes based on how the student learns best. According to the Warrior Academy teacher Karen Butler and her students, the Academy is already showing its value to students who were behind on their credits.
Pearson, a developer of blended learning platforms, states in their Learning Curve research project that there is a “link between education and economic prosperity,” and that “how a country’s schools perform relative to other nations matters” in this “globally connected world.” In their 2014 Index project, the United States ranks 14th out of 40 in the Overall Index.
Indiana is ranked seventh in the nation with 2013-2014 graduation rates of 87.9 percent, according to a December 15, 2015 Associated Press article on The Times of Northwest Indiana website. A recent Indiana Department of Education Report shows the state’s rate for 2014-2015 increases to 88.9 percent, and that Winamac Community High School’s percentage is consistently higher than the state’s. These numbers might seem good, however, teachers and administrators at Winamac Community High School want to give all students the best opportunities available.
WINAMAC AND THE WARRIOR ACADEMY
Superintendent Dan Foster talks about the need for the Winamac Warrior Academy. (Video by Jennifer Shank-Maxwell)
“Eastern Pulaski and Winamac High School, in general, has had a very good history of being successful, but we’re not at 100 percent,” says Dan Foster, Superintendent of Eastern Pulaski School.
To answer the question of how they could do better, Eastern Pulaski looked at various reports including test scores and graduation rates. The results showed there are students who might benefit from a blended learning program.
“We had a number of students, probably 5 to 10 per grade level, that either don’t graduate or are in danger of not graduating. These are students who are capable in mastering the course material but are not successful in a tradition classroom,” says Kate Daily, Guidance Councilor for Winamac Community High School.
Armed with this information, Mr. Foster moved forward with providing a blended learning education program for the school system. He utilized the Indiana Department of Education resources for establishing qualified programs, including grants. One of the grant stipulations requires each student to be in the academy for three hours a day, however, not all the students require that much time. This requirement may be altered in the future.
“We may not get extra dollars for a student who only needs one class, and that’s ok. If we are still helping our kids, and helping them graduate on time, than that’s more important right now,” says Mr. Foster.
THE NEED FOR BLENDED LEARNING
Student needs range from emotional anxiety to physical ability. The cause of these needs varies by each student’s situation, including home life and trauma. Such is the case for some of the students in the Warrior Academy. Determining a student’s eligibility for the Academy is determined with the help of Mrs. Daily, Winamac High School Principal Rick DeFries, and with input from parents and the student.
Don C. Johnston writes in his 2008 article for EP Magazine, Learning Alternative and Strategies for Students Who Are Struggling, that the need to reach students is “more about ‘how to connect’ with students.” He postulates in his article that each student has his or her own way of learning and if traditional classroom education is not working, an alternative solution can be found.
“Not all students are eligible for the Warrior Academy,” says Ms. Butler. “However, we try to help to students who will benefit from the program. It takes hard work and they have to do the work to be able to stay.”
ALTERNATIVE LEARNING IS NOTHING NEW
“It is a race between destruction and education. I am a teacher, and destruction shall never win.” – Elizabeth E. Farrell
Elizabeth Farrell (1870-1932) was a teacher in New York City in early 1900’s, and is the founder of the Council for Exceptional Children. Farrell recognized that some children needed an alternative to a traditional education setting. The special education programs seen today started with her efforts to help these students. However, not all students fall under the umbrella of special needs.
Elizabeth Farrell ushered in the special education system that is in place today. However, there are students who do not qualify for special education services yet need an alternative to a traditional classroom.
THE WARRIOR ACADEMY TEACHERS
Academy teacher Karen Butler and Elaina Sutton, Band Director and Academy Assistant, discuss the progress of students in the program. (Podcast by Jennifer Shank-Maxwell)
WHAT IS BLENDED LEARNING?
There are different types of alternative learning solutions. There are online schools that are not associated with traditional brick-and-mortar schools but function like them; home schooling that uses online learning; and blended learning programs that combine traditional classrooms with online learning. The Warrior Academy chose to use a blended learning solution.
According to The International Association for K-12 Online Learning’s report entitled Blending Learning: The Evolution of Online and Face-to-Face Education from 2008-2015, blended learning “combines the best features of traditional schooling with the advantages of online learning to deliver personalized, differentiated instruction across a group of learners.”
The Warrior Academy chose the GradPoint blended learning program because it offers the flexibility to customize each unit to individual student needs. It also offers Ms. Butler the ability to work directly with other teachers to ensure consistency between general education classes and the Warrior Academy.
“We chose GradPoint because I can easily tailor classes for each student,” says Ms. Butler. “I can work with a general education teacher to match their curriculum, yet present the subject in a way the Academy student can comprehend.”
Courses are accessed online. Pearson uses many of the same textbooks as a traditional classroom, so tailoring a course is easier for Ms. Butler. Each question is presented one at a time, but if a student does better with a paper test, there is a printable version Ms. Butler can provide.
“We are not limited by the number of students we have for a course,” says Ms. Butler. “If only one student needs that course, then we can offer it.”
The Warrior Academy can offer high school courses from a number of disciplines. GradPoint offers all the required Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies required for graduation in Indiana. It also offers other courses in subjects like Careers, Life Skills, Humanities, and World Languages. The Academy has access to course for Middle School students to stay on target to enter high school.
A TYPICAL DAY AT THE ACADEMY
Students come to the Academy for the classes they need. Some come for one class, others for two or three. They choose how they will access classes, then work at their own pace. (Slideshow by Jennifer Shank-Maxwell)
Students work at their own pace, which is one of Academy student Dylan Stout’s favorite parts. He said sometimes it seems teachers take a long time to explain a lesson. This can be frustrating for a student who can work faster in certain subjects, causing him or her to loose focus. Then in turn, fail the classwork. The academy allows him to process the lessons at his own pace.
Each student at the Academy has their own online account through GradPoint, loaded with the classes they need. The students can access their accounts from a school issued iPad to laptops and computers available in the Academy classroom. They can work on homework from anywhere they have Internet access. However, tests are taken in the classroom, witnessed by Ms. Butler or Ms. Sutton, and only accessed with a password.
Warrior Academy students share their experience and success. Update: Nicole Hurlburt earned her credits and graduated. (Video by Jennifer Shank-Maxwell)
“Overall, the students in the Academy have been very successful in this first semester,” says Ms. Butler. “It’s exciting to see students who struggled in the regular classroom do well. Sadly, though, we had a student or two who didn’t get invited back for the second semester. For one reason or another, they didn’t take advantage of the opportunity they were given.”
The International Association for K-12 Online Learning report, Online and Blended Learning: A Survey of Policy and Practice of K-12 Schools Around the World brings a few issues to light that affect students in rural areas. These issues include the availability of Internet access and technology, funding for alternative learning, and who is eligible for alternative education programs.
Eastern Pulaski Schools provide iPad and other technology for all Middle School and High School students; however, Internet access at home remains an issue for some students. The school provides study hall time with Wi-Fi access, and the public library also offers free Wi-Fi.
The Warrior Academy looks forward to offering expanded services to students on both ends of the learning spectrum. They plan to offer classes on a variety of subjects based on student interest, without the concern of class size.
For more about blended learning news, read the Twitter feed below.