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Meet the Middle School Exact Path Skills Champion: Collegiate Academy at Weis

Meet the Middle School Exact Path Skills Champion: Collegiate Academy at Weis

Meet Collegiate Academy at Weis, in Galveston, Texas, the middle school champions of Edmentum’s 2019 Exact Path Skills Challenge competition. I had the chance to talk with Kandy Arena, special education teacher at Collegiate Academy, and learn more about how her students reacted when they found out they had won the challenge, how she keeps her classes motivated, and why Exact Path works for her special education students.

Congratulations on the big win! You must be so proud of your students for coming out on top in this national challenge. Were your students excited when they heard the news that they had won? Do you have any special plans to celebrate?

Oh! They were so excited! They are all so excited about the pizza party too. And, one thing that is so great is that we had enough to do two parties! So, we're going to split them up, and we are going to give a Valentine's party and a Christmas party. This month, I'm getting a ton of pizzas, and we're all going to get to come together, and we’ll have Christmas music. Then, we’ll do a small Valentine’s party in February with the remainder of the gift cards. 

At our school, we have weekly pacesetter awards, which are announced every Wednesday. After word got around to my principal that we had won, all my students got the pacesetter award for that week. And that was so exciting, having the kids recognized for doing good things.

Collegiate Academy at Weis has been using Exact Path to support instruction for special education classes for the past three years, and have seen growth.   Describe why Exact Path has been a good fit for your special education students.

Our middle school kids—our special education population—was not showing enough growth from the 2017 STARR [State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness] test scores. There was too big of a gap between the regular education kids and the special education kids. And so, our school was put on a probationary standing for the special education population test scores. And they gave us two years to get our scores up and to show growth. And the assistant director of special education was put in charge of finding a program that would help the population and found Exact Path. This is the third year that we've used it, and it has been very successful. They showed growth. The gap got smaller.

Your classes are made up of special education students, ranging from fifth to eighth graders, who come in for an hour and 10 minutes every day for reading and math on Exact Path. What are some of the unique ways you motivate your students to master skills in your class?

When my students first come into class, they want to get busy. They come in; they log in; they get busy on Exact Path. It's amazing the response I get out of the kids due to just little treats. And they love it, and they work hard for me, and I reward them every chance I get. This is the third year for some of these kids in this program, and they are especially excited about the pizza party.

One of the students’ main sources of motivation is that they want to earn their Exact Path Trophies. I have a plan in place where for every three Trophies a student earns on their math learning path, they can go to the class Trophy Box. Inside, I have all sorts of prizes. I often visit Mexico, so I'm able to go down there and buy all these great custom little bracelets handmade with beads or yarn. So, when a student earns 12 Exact Path Trophies in math, they get an eagle bracelet, which is our school mascot, and they get their picture taken with their eagle bracelet and I send it home. For their reading learning path, I award prizes for every four Exact Path Trophies they earn. After they have earned 16 Trophies in Exact Path, they get to design a bracelet and tell me what color they want it to be and what name they want it to say, and I have it made for them.

You’ve built a really encouraging environment in your classroom, where students feel like they can succeed. Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for other educators or schools using Exact Path in regard to encouraging and motivating students?

The motivation has to come from the teacher, and it can be helpful to develop some kind of a reward system. And it doesn't have to be candy; it doesn't have to be like the things that are in my treasure box. But, I believe that in this type of set up [that Exact Path has], where the kids receive Trophies if they pass a certain skill, you can really motivate these kids by recognizing them for their hard work. I just think a real strong, organized reward system is important—especially, if you have that system set up from the very beginning and you keep up with it. Because if you do, then the kids will stay interested, and they will take their lessons seriously.


Interested in learning more about Edmentum’s 2019 Exact Path Skills Challenge champions? Meet our high school winner at the Tennessee Volunteer Challenge Academy and our elementary school winner at Red Level Elementary!