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Putting Student Needs First to Build a Foundation for Academic Success: How Little Falls High School Leverages Edmentum Courseware for Credit Recovery and Hybrid Online Learning

Putting Student Needs First to Build a Foundation for Academic Success: How Little Falls High School Leverages Edmentum Courseware for Credit Recovery and Hybrid Online Learning

Anyone who has lived in a small town knows how strong the ties of community are. Rural communities have so much to offer, but they also face some unique challenges. And especially in recent decades, some of these communities have watched the standby industry dry up or move away; dealt with the consequences of generational poverty; or seen population demographics shift significantly.

Little Falls, a community of roughly 20,000 in rural central Minnesota, has encountered all of these challenges and the impact on the local public school system has been significant.

An Evolving Rural Community

Little Falls High School Assistant Principal Mike Olson has worked in the district since 1989. In his 20-year tenure, he has seen the average graduating class size dip from 350 to just over 180 students as two major boat manufacturers and a paper mill have shuttered, being replaced by smaller industrial companies. The region’s population has also grown significantly more diverse, with more than 60 students in the district now considered English language learners (ELL). One thing that has not changed however, is an elevated poverty rate—currently, 46% of students in the district qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, as compared to a statewide rate of just 37%. Many of these students arrive in the classroom without the requisite basic needs for learning, like good nutrition and homelife stability, being met.

Recognizing a Need for Greater Support and Digital Learning Options

Several years ago, Mr. Olson and his staff at Little Falls High School found themselves with two separate but related challenges. They realized they had a sizable population of ‘under-supported’ students—learners who did not meet criteria for special education programming, but struggled with some basic academic and social emotional skills, and needed extra resources. Many of these students were falling behind in credits and needed credit recovery options in order to graduate on time. Simultaneously, an increasing number of students were leaving the district for other fully virtual schools. However, many who left ultimately returned to the district after a year or two having little success with these online alternatives and falling behind in credits.

The school needed a solution to address credit recovery while providing additional support and alternative options for students with diverse learning needs. Mr. Olson and his staff started to do their research, consulting with nearby rural districts for inspiration and proven-successful approaches. After visiting a neighboring district with a hybrid online credit recovery and foundational skills program in place, the idea for the Little Falls Excel program was born.

When Students Come First, Technology Falls into Place

When the Excel program, which is headed up by Heidi Larsen, was launched, technology wasn’t the focus; instead, students’ needs were priority. Ms. Larsen, who is also Little Falls High School’s EBD Level III teacher, targeted those under-supported students, working with them in small-group and one-on-one settings on basics like social skills, goal setting, study strategies, and personal responsibility. Soon after, Edmentum Courseware was added in to support credit recovery. With Courseware, students in the Excel Program were able to begin making up missed credits during the school day in a more flexible, supported environment. The addition of online courses meant that credit recovery no longer had to entail summer school, and with Courseware’s mastery-based approach including exemptive pretests, students could work towards needed credits on their own pace in order to graduate on time.

And it didn’t take long for application of Courseware to expand to meet the needs of students simply looking for alternative learning options. Ms. Larsen explains, “We have students that are with us for one hour. We have students that are with us just depending on their day in school. We have all sorts of situations. It really just depends on each individual kid. The thing I like about it is, when I go to a meeting and a parent is there saying ‘What can you do for my kid?’, we can offer a limitless kind of a schedule.”

Now, the Excel program has evolved into a kind of ‘school-within-a-school’, where all kinds of learners, from EBD students to those wanting to work ahead, are being integrated and individually supported. The program has its own large space in the high school building with four distinct and flexible workspaces to meet different students’ learning needs and day-to-day moods. And the high-quality Courseware digital curriculum allows Ms. Larsen to effectively support students no matter what course they are working on.    

Leveraging Courseware to Support Digital Instruction and Personal Connections

Online learning options were always intended to be a part of the Excel program. However, as the program has grown, Mr. Olson and Ms. Larsen have come to appreciate Courseware for the heavy-lifting it takes on in terms of basic instruction—in turn freeing them up to focus on their students’ specific needs. Courseware’s pacing tool helps Excel students see exactly where they are in their online courses, and what they need to do to stay on track. Students also frequently leverage built-in tools like Guided Notes and the glossary to problem-solve independently and achieve mastery more quickly. This leaves Ms. Larsen with more time to provide individualized coaching and make sure students’ all-important basic needs are being met so they have the foundation to do what they’re in the building to do—learn.

Looking Toward a Truly Student-Centered Approach to Learning

With the success of the Excel program, Mr. Olson and his staff are now looking to a future where online learning can be leveraged to not only provide flexible alternatives but help every student meet personal goals. This is in perfect alignment with work the district has done with professional development provider Modern Teacher to move toward a district-wide personalized learning approach, which places heavy emphasis on standards- and project-based learning. Mr. Olson certainly sees Edmentum and Courseware as being a part of this evolution.

“If [students] struggle and need to take more time to meet the standards, we can do that. They don't have to be, "Hey, we're studying this unit in math, and we're taking the test on Thursday. If you fail it too bad, we're moving on on Monday. We're starting a new unit," because that's the way we traditionally have taught. Edmentum gives those kids a chance to move at their own pace and to truly master the standard before they move on to the next unit.”

Looking for more inspiration for student-centered hybrid online learning programming? Learn more about original credit and credit recovery options from Edmentum, or check out how West Burlington ISD in Iowa has removed the stigma from alternative education with their Corners Academy!

sarah.cornelius@edmentum.com's picture

Sarah Cornelius is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Edmentum and has been with the company since 2014. In her role, she works to provide educators with engaging and insightful resources. Sarah received her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media from the University of Wisconsin - Stout.

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