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[Best Practices] Lessons from an Indiana Blended Learning Program That Works

[Best Practices] Lessons from an Indiana Blended Learning Program That Works

Recently, I had the pleasure of connecting with one of our Edmentum partners in Middlebury, Indiana, to gather some tried-and-true best practices from a blended learning program with a history of success. Lauren Bailey, the blended learning lab teacher at Northridge Middle School (NMS), leverages Edmentum Courseware for digital curriculum and EdOptions Academy for completely virtual courses in her blended learning lab.

Without a doubt, this program is serving students’ unique needs—just look at the numbers. NMS’ blended learning initiative has provided over 150 high school credits to middle school students and has allowed for NMS to become the school of record for 25 students from other districts or online academies. But, perhaps even more interesting than these impressive stats are the insights gathered after several years of engaging in this work. Today, you’ll hear from Ms. Bailey herself as she describes some of NMS’ accomplishments and key learnings along the way.

Describe the blended learning lab at Northridge Middle School.

Ms. Bailey: We are a public school, and then I have a computer lab housed in the public school, and then kids work from home or I know there's some that come and go. Theoretically, a student could be homeschooled for all of their curriculum except for taking one course with us, and whether they come into the building at all or work strictly from home via Edmentum, I’m monitoring them.

What sort of student needs have you been able to meet with this program?

Ms. Bailey: The list of needs that we’ve met is long, and I’m [pleasantly] surprised every time that people come up with a reason why this would be a good fit. The different needs we’ve met include serving students that were suicidal, those who have lost a loved one, or learners that are deaf and hard of hearing, to name a few.

Does participating in the blended learning lab ever evolve into more school involvement?

Ms. Bailey: Yeah, [taking classes through the blended learning lab] makes students eligible for athletics and academic teams, book club, [and] things like that through our school. I would say, nine times out of ten, we find that once we get those kids involved in some way, through the blended learning lab, they find success, and we find ways to get them here more, and that's exciting too.

This sounds like a unique program that you’ve created; do other schools in your area do anything like this?

Ms. Bailey: Yeah, I think that everyone would like to do it when they hear about it. Our current assistant superintendent—this is his baby. He saw the need as something that would benefit his family and his kids. And certainly, the pressure that our community felt when the economy crashed in 2007 [added to the need for something like this]. We’re a real industrial community, and when all those people left the area, the schools were really hurting. So now, with that pressure to keep students in our corporations, we really focused on where students were going and targeted how to get them here, while thinking how to collaborate with their worlds and expectations for learning.

What have you learned from doing this for several years now?

Ms. Bailey: We’ve learned that parental involvement in this program is critical. Students have to be motivated and want to work independently, and they need that push not only from me here at school but also from home to find the most success. I think it's also important to transition one class at a time. Throwing a kid into four online courses at once is too much. So, transiting one class at a time is my best practice.

What steps have you taken to ensure that parents are involved?

Ms. Bailey: We interview and meet in person with every student and parent before making any decisions to transition them into an online course. I send a weekly email to the parents to interpret the Edmentum data as well. The parents are all given login information, but I try to interpret the percentage of the course complete that students are at and where they should be to meet their personal goals. Some kids are trying to get things done in 9 weeks; some kids are trying to get things done in 18 weeks. So, helping them get to that goal and interpret that data individually, even though it's all available in Edmentum, helps.

When it comes to offering completely virtual courses through EdOptions Academy, what is your process for determining when that’s the right fit for students?

Ms. Bailey: We start with the same process, meeting with a counselor and a teacher, and then I give students a two-week trial. If they are not on pace working at home as well as at school or getting passing grades, then they lose the opportunity to be in those classes. It’s a privilege. But, we find that kids love the opportunity to take courses they are passionate about and that they will succeed because [Edmentum] has such a large catalog of courses available.

So, how do you determine what courses you will offer through Edmentum Courseware versus those you will offer through EdOptions Academy?

Ms. Bailey: If I’m aware that I have four students interested in a subject matter that I can find a teacher for, they can teach it [with Courseware curriculum]. For example, if I have two kids interested in photography and two interested in art, then part of my job is to find a teacher. But, if I only have one or two kids interested, then we go with EdOptions Academy. We decide what’s most cost-effective to support our students.

What are you most proud of regarding the success of this blended learning lab?

Ms. Bailey: I think probably one of the biggest things I’m proud of is the environment that we’ve been able to create. Middle school can be scary for students, with transitioning eight class periods a day, carrying books, and juggling materials. With the online curriculum, it just gets everything in one space, and some kids just really need that. I’m pretty proud of what we’ve created to make kids feel safe and successful.

The future looks bright as NMS considers additional solutions that can touch an even broader student population. Want to learn more about how this school has achieved success with its blended learning lab?? You can read about the full program implementation at Northridge Middle School in this success story.