Louisiana Partnership Expands Educational Opportunities for Students 6–12

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Communities have been hit hard these past few years. Cost of living increases. Decreased supply of goods and services. Affordable housing. Struggling businesses. Personnel shortages. Schools, teachers and ultimately students have felt the heavy burden placed on education. Smaller rural communities have been especially hit hard.

Callout: How is a school district to manage the delicate balance of providing quality instruction and advance learning, all while navigating the social-emotional needs of students?

East Baton Rouge Parish sought a creative solution to meet the needs of its 40,283 diverse learners and 2,200 teachers—they leveraged resources available to them outside of their community. 

Finding solutions

Dr. Sito Narcisse, superintendent for East Baton Rouge Parish, faced the challenge that plagues many schools in the U.S., a nationwide teacher shortage. With many families seeking remote education options, Louisiana’s East Baton Rouge Virtual Academy (EBRVA) had quickly grown to 1,400 students; nearly half that number in grades 6-12. To help support these students, he knew he needed an innovative solution.

Narcisse was familiar with ASU Prep Digital, an accredited online K–12 school that is part of Arizona State University, the college ranked #1 in innovation for the last eight years by U.S. News & World Report. To help keep students learning and on pace to graduate, he asked for assistance and formed a multi-year partnership with ASU Prep Digital for EBRVA’s 6-12 program last spring. 

Customized model    

In this partnership, ASU Prep is the instructional provider for the school, providing curriculum and quality teachers certified in the subject areas they teach. The ASU educators are completing requirements to also become teacher certified in Louisiana. EBRVA is the students’ school of record and classes operate on East Baton Rouge Parish’s school schedule.

Discover other ways to partner with ASU Prep Digital. 

“We appreciate the opportunity to work with this community and this partnership helps us serve others and expand and create new learning models,” said Dr.  Christy Cleugh, Director of National Partnerships for ASU Prep Digital. “Their goal is our goal—to provide outstanding educational opportunities for students and provide excellent teachers well versed in the digital atmosphere.”

For all collaborative partnerships, like the one with East Baton Rouge, ASU Prep meets with the school and district’s leadership to first understand the needs of their community of learners. Then, they customize the support and make adjustments if needed along the way.  

Student-center focus and personalization

Dr. Christy Cleugh, Director of National Partnerships at ASU Prep Digital “We strive to get to know each student as an individual and treat each classroom as a classroom of one,” Dr. Cleugh said. “We see a great deal of engagement and have lots of positive feedback. We hear, ‘thank you, we know you care about us’ from parents and students a lot. It feels like we’re building nice solid relationships with the families.”

Dr. Christy Cleugh, Director of National Partnerships at ASU Prep Digital

Providing student-centered focus to ensure all students have the opportunity for success no matter where they live is a core credo at ASU Prep.

Rachel Maleski, Rachel Maleski, Digital Partnership Principal for ASU Prep Global, said, “We know the importance of keeping students at the center of every decision we make—it’s what will lead to the best outcome for students. The core of our mission as an organization is to constantly iterate new models for educational success and increase academic achievement for all learners.”

Rachel Maleski, Digital Partnership Principal for ASU Prep Global

Working together achieves more

Prior to the pandemic, Maleski said she felt educators and schools often worked in silos and competition. But she said she feels a shift now and there is more partnering and emphasis on the importance of collaboration.

“Collaborating really strengthens possibilities. When you partner with us, you are not alone,” she said. “We work together to ensure all students have equitable access to quality instruction. We think about who we are including and how we can make it work for them. It’s a two-way collaborative endeavor. Our partners learn from us, and we’re learning from them and with them.”

ASU Prep is proud of the continued progress students are making at EBRVA, and celebrates East Baton Rouge Parish for leveraging resources and relationships to build bright futures.   

EBREast Baton Rouge Virtual Academy
East Baton Rouge Virtual Academy (EBRVA) is a free, online EBR School System public school for students in grades PreK through 12. Enrollment is open to all families within the East Baton Rouge School district. Learn more at https://ebrschools.org/schools/ebrvirtual/

Partner with ASU Prep Digital
ASU Prep Digital is an accredited online K–12 school providing districts with professional development options customized for their needs, including virtual teacher mentoring. For information on ways ASU Prep Digital can help with teacher shortages and other needs, visit our Teacher Mentoring webpage or email partnership@asuprep.org.

Convergence of Technology and Personalization Play a Critical Role in the Future of Education

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Originally published on K12 Digest

Julie Young, Managing Director of ASU Prep and Vice President of ASU Educational Outreach, has been celebrated as an education disruptor for nearly three decades. She was the founding CEO and president of Florida Virtual School, the world’s first state-wide virtual school and one of the nation’s largest K-12 online education provider. When not leading international school programs, you’ll find her at the nearest beach with several golden retrievers.

Navigating a global pandemic revealed teachable moments in virtually every facet of life, but some of the greatest learning has come in the aftermath. Not only did the pandemic force new methods to emerge, but it also spurred new thinking. Along the way, the collective mindset shifted from what had to be done differently to what could be done differently.

Across nearly every sector, the pandemic forced us to rethink long-held truths and opened the gates wide for considering new approaches to conventional methods. Education is no exception. In fact, education may be the strongest example of them all. Digital learning, once an outlier shrouded in mystique, now permeates education today – from site-based classrooms to hybrid or flex options to fully online.

In the earliest days of the pandemic, missteps were rampant in schools from coast to coast — even around the world. The disruption to traditional learning was abrupt. It thrust educators into a fully online environment with no preparation.

Given the hyper-personalized way many of us live — with ads served up to match our browsing history and custom playlists that reflect our musical taste — the pandemic revealed education as a glaring anomaly.

Historically, while many schools offered online options for acceleration and remediation, those digital options were unevenly distributed and applied. Many schools lacked a comprehensive strategy for how digital learning tools could complement and support their entire instructional plan, and, as the pandemic revealed, staff were largely underprepared to teach in a digitally supported instructional environment.

Yet ultimately, a silver lining emerged from the pandemic. Digital learning has become recognized as a viable delivery method ripe with potential. This is particularly true when it comes to answering individual students’ unique circumstances or personal needs.

Take military kids, for example. These students bounce frequently from one school system to the next — in some cases entering a new district befuddled because the material is advanced well beyond their previous experience, and in others, wasting months in boredom while waiting for students in the new district to catch up. What’s more, with every move there’s a new set of peers to navigate. It’s disruptive, but there are alternatives.

For military families – and scores more — digital learning offers major academic and social advantages. ASU Prep Digital is a K-12 online program that fully integrates with Arizona State University. It operates within the ASU Prep network of K-12 schools, which have become a model for offering a spectrum of digitally-supported learning options, from classroom-based to fully online.

The programs have been embraced worldwide by students of virtually every imaginable background: Ambitious learners whose local school curriculum offers few challenges and a blurry path toward college. Youth with health conditions that leave them strong enough to learn but poorly suited for the rigors of a typical public school. Talented young musicians, artists and athletes whose rigorous practice and performance schedules demand greater flexibility than most districts allow. Young men and women in the war-ravaged Ukraine, who recognize education as the key to a brighter future.

New Models Gain Traction

Interest in alternative learning models has steadily grown since the pandemic emerged. Yet to be clear, the technology isn’t new. Online learning has been happening for decades. What is new is a heightened awareness that not all students learn in the same way, at the same pace, in the same environment — and that’s spurring an unprecedented level of innovation in the education sector.

The result is a steady depolarization. Students no longer have to choose strictly in-person or strictly online. The lines are blurring to accommodate students’ unique needs.

At the core of this forward thinking is a critical question: How do you want to learn? ASU Preparatory Academy offers a glimpse at how putting personalized student needs at the core can shape modalities and offerings. An accredited college preparatory school that serves students in grades K-12, ASU Prep is chartered by Arizona State University. Founded in 2008 with a single live campus, by 2017 ASU Prep had expanded its in-person offering and launched ASU Prep Digital, built on the same college preparatory framework but with classes exclusively online and available to both full- and part-time students anywhere in the world.

Today, ASU Prep’s continuum of options spans on-site immersion campuses in and around Phoenix on one end and fully flexible, any-time-anywhere programs on the other, all designed to keep students on an accelerated path toward college. In on-site classrooms, teachers embrace blended learning as they learn how to leverage digital tools to maximize personalization for each student.

Students and their families can also find a range of hybrid and microschool programs tailored to their unique learning needs and preferences. In addition to five-day in person campuses, two hybrid campuses in the Phoenix metro bring students to the classroom three days a week, leaving two days for more flexible learning.

ASU Prep Local is one of the new hybrid programs designed for online students who crave more personal interaction than a fully virtual model allows; digital coursework is enhanced with in-person collaboration, discussion and project-based learning in small group settings. Moving further along the continuum, the ASU Prep Experience, another hybrid model, provides a single day each week for college-bound online high school students to acclimate to the college environment by attending class on the Arizona State University campus. Both programs answer the growing interest in microschools among families attracted to smaller cohorts and targeted but flexible learning opportunities.

New enrollments at the fully virtual ASU Prep Digital remain strong, although most area schools have long since resumed regular in-person schedules. However, perhaps most telling of the need for more tailored learning options is the strength of the new hybrid modalities, each of which has surpassed enrollment projections at launch and continues to expand to meet growing demand.

Looking Ahead

After the pandemic, there was a rush to “return to normal,” which for many meant a return to traditional classrooms. The challenge, though, is that students need more options — not fewer. Online or hybrid models aren’t for every student, but they may be just the ticket for the student who is not thriving in the classroom or the student whose personal circumstances dictate a need for flexibility.

The future of learning is personalized – it meets students where they are, it assesses what they know, adapts content in real time to ensure comprehension, offers up new modalities if they need to learn differently and stays with them throughout their journey.

Moving forward when last year’s learners are missing

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Student absenteeism is hardly a new problem, but chronic absenteeism among public school students has more than doubled since before the pandemic. Students who are chronically absent, meaning they miss 10 percent of days or more in a school year, are at greater risk of falling behind.

A recent article revealed that an estimated 1.1 million American K–12 students registered for the 2020–21 school year but never showed up for class. That is more people than live in the cities of Miami and Atlanta combined. Sadly, there are a lot of missing students.

Prior to 2020, some of the common causes of chronic absenteeism included bullying, mental or physical illness, or failing grades. Nowadays, on top of that, learners may be missing or absent because families have relocated, lack transportation, or have changed their education platform.

Education and teaching must continue to evolve. The sheer number of students absent from classrooms is jarring and many wonder if schools will ever return to “normal.” Most likely, our definition of what is normal may continue to be stretched even further.

Here are a few suggestions you can try to help move forward when last year’s learners are missing.

Hold a classroom “town hall” or open discussion.
Students know when their classmates are missing. Create a safe space where students are free to share their feelings on missing fellow students. Acknowledge the “loss” and empathize that change can be uncomfortable, but humans will undoubtedly encounter many “pivots” throughout their life.

Don’t let current students fall through the cracks.
In addition to being concerned of the absent student falling behind, be cognizant of the spillover effects of chronic absenteeism. Chronic absenteeism not only has a damaging effect on those individuals missing excessive school days, but also has the potential to reduce outcomes and achievements for others in the same educational setting.

Reach out to families who are absent.
Send an email, or even better, call. Let the student and parent know they have been on your mind, and you just wanted to ask how they are doing. Approach the conversation from the heart and be sincere.

Ask students what they would do if in charge.
Have students brainstorm ideas on what they can do, individually or as a group, when they feel overwhelmed by change. Ask how they would want to be approached if they were no longer in class or at school. Creating an action plan based on their insight is a great social-emotional and problem-solving exercise.

Regardless of the reasons why last year’s learners are missing, educational leaders can help keep their students moving forward.  

Check out this post to explore ways to build community and help keep students and families engaged.

Parent and Family Engagement Matters

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How to get your parents and teachers working together in partnership. 

Parent and family engagement in a child’s education is a powerful predictor of academic success. Yet, many parents are noticeably absent from school activities. There are any number of reasons why—stress and survival mode among them. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association showed that 73% of adults said they are overwhelmed by the number of crises facing the world right now. 

One sure thing that keeps parents from being involved in their child’s education is their not knowing how to be involved.

  • Be intentional and invite parents to participate. This may sound obvious but keep sharing opportunities with parents on ways they can get involved. Invite them to a live lesson. Ask them to join a coffee chat and discussion. Grade level does not matter. Invite them to participate.  
  • Improve communication. Effective communication is a two-way flow of information. Newsletters, blogs, and online calendars are great at providing information to parents. But it’s critical to actively solicit feedback from parents. Host a family night. Use social media to connect to parents. 
  • Try to view parent involvement through the parents’ eyes. You are teaching their child, but it’s important to realize your student may not be their only child. Parents with multiple children in varying grades are navigating different levels of learning and involvement based on ages and stages. Consider these questions: Is their job demanding and stressful? What does their home life look like? Are they also caring for aging parents or extended family? 
  • Exercise patience. Remember, it’s not within your control whether a parent engages in a school activity. But, if they did not attend, be sincere and let them know they were missed. Find out if they have a special skill or job they’re willing to share as a guest speaker. Keep the open invitations coming.

Want more?
Check out this post to go deeper into the importance of the connection between parents/families, schools, and student achievement.    

Try ASU Prep Digital Professional Development at no cost.
Schools and districts across the country turn to the experts at ASU Prep digital for PD solutions, customized for their needs. For a limited time, we’re offering one complimentary asynchronous training course for your teachers—no strings attached. Browse course offerings on our ASU Prep Digital Training Portal and contact me to claim your complimentary course.

Answering the problem of teacher attrition in America

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Originally published in the Arizona Capitol Times.

Teacher shortages are hardly new, but Covid has accelerated resignations at a rate that is dramatically outpacing other professions. Federal data shows that from January to November 2021, quits in the educational services sector rose 148%. (By comparison, another employment sector beleaguered by the pandemic—retail services—saw a 27% increase in that time period.) 

So many teachers and school support staff leaving their jobs—many in the middle of a school year—leaves a deep mark on students. Beyond the disruptions to student learning, losing teachers creates a dearth of peer leaders within a school. 

According to national surveys, many of the resigning teachers are 15-year educators, often mid-career teachers who commonly serve as new teacher mentors, department chairs and curriculum committee members. Between veteran teachers taking early retirement and decreasing enrollment in teacher preparation programs nationwide, all areas of the teacher pool seem to be drying up at once. 

Faced with the reality of teacher shortages, many states are reducing requirements for teacher credentialing. While doing so accelerates access to the profession, the result is individuals untrained in education. 

There are clear advantages to a local entrepreneur teaching business or marketing electives, or a native Spanish speaker filling a gap in a high school’s world language department. However, professionals new to teaching must rapidly build new skills such as classroom management, ESE and ELL strategies, navigating the social-emotional needs of students, and even developing curriculum for online, hybrid and in-person formats. 

In the context of resignations, fewer applicants and more candidates lacking formal training, teacher mentoring will be more important than ever before. Research has long demonstrated the efficacy of strong mentoring programs on both teacher retention and student achievement. However, in schools already suffering from personnel shortages, asking peer teachers to design and implement a mentoring program for new hires is not practical. 

As the saying goes, modern problems require modern solutions. 

School leaders who think outside the physical school building for solutions to teacher readiness challenges will benefit from resources such as virtual mentors. A virtual mentor can be the personalized connection new teachers need while unburdening a mentoring time commitment from current faculty. Virtual mentoring may include weekly one-on-one meetings, live classroom observation via simulcast, lesson development review, and individualized coaching feedback. 

High-quality mentoring programs rooted in education, not profit, can effectively partner with staff to deliver weekly sessions, lesson planning support, data deep dives and peer-to-peer mentoring. Vetting potential partners for mission alignment and mutually defining expectations at the outset are key for a smooth implementation. 

When executed responsibly, new teacher mentoring provided by remote master teachers can impact teacher retention, job satisfaction and student achievement. In a school environment rife with uncertainty, schools that provide virtual mentoring can rest assured that teachers new to the profession in their school are getting the training and support necessary to deliver high quality instruction all year. 

Teresa King is Director of National Partnerships for ASU Prep Digital, an accredited online K–12 school that also partners with school districts to deliver professional development options customized for their needs, including virtual teacher mentoring. 

Connections in Online Learning Supports Student Achievement

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The ASU Prep Digital Partnership: Student, Parent, Teacher, Community

All students, regardless of age or grade, want to feel valued and cared about. They want to be seen, understood, and accepted. Whether attending school in person or online, finding connections is critical to their educational success.

Sociologist Joyce Epstein, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Education and founder of the National Network of Partnership Schools, has gathered decades of research showing the correlation of connections between schools and families, and their influence on students’ education. ASU Prep Digital wholeheartedly believes the student/family connection to school, teachers, and community supports student achievement.     

Student/Family Connections 

“We know that parent involvement raises student achievement,” said Emily Mulvihill, M.Ed., ASU Prep Digital Elementary School Assistant Principal. “When parents communicate their expectations and can link learning to current events, it has value and is a strong association to student achievement.”

Dr. Sage Sirotkin, ASU Prep Digital High School Principal agrees. “When parents are involved, we see higher GPAs and outcomes in math and reading. It’s vitally important to create a community with the parents for the success of the student and school.”

Partnership is the heart

ASU Prep Digital is focused on creating connections with students and families to build meaningful partnerships.   

“It’s the heart of what we do; it sets us apart,” said Sirotkin. “Our first priority is building relationships. When students recognize that we support them and believe in them, they will strive to achieve because we built that connection. Our ‘secret sauce’ is we create connections.”

“Our younger students especially need more connection, and we take it very seriously,” said Mulvihill. “We make it a high priority to meet with students and families and engage in a variety of ways. Our parents are truly partners in the learning experience. They’re home educators—it’s a collaborative partnership and our model as a school.”

Parents are invited to come to live lessons, join in coffee chats and discussions, and are encouraged to be involved in school events—no matter what their child’s grade.  

“Parental involvement doesn’t end at 6th grade. We make sure we continue through high school,” Sirotkin said.    

Building connection virtually

When does connection start? Sirotkin stated, “It starts at the beginning from day one. Those calls we make are the first impression and connection with our students. Teachers find out what the student is about and what life is like when not in school. It’s important to just be yourself. Let them get to know you reciprocally as well—to see you as a person who has hobbies, interests, pets.”  

“We love having parent guest speakers and this year in First grade we had career day with a parent panel of experts including a pilot and music producer,” said Mulvihill. “Parents can also participate in clubs along with their students or as a club guest speaker.”

The latest format for connecting families and students is a learning pod. Teachers match students geographically and share the contact information with the parent pod group leader. Participation is voluntary, and in this model, families plan in-person activities to get the students together for shared learning experiences.  

“Pods have become so popular that a lot of students have requested to be in the same classes this year,” she said.

Many teachers extend their time outside of the classroom because they, too, are enjoying the close connection. In fact, many teachers have told Sirotkin that they feel more connected to their students than when they were in a face-to-face classroom. In an online school format, teachers are able to spend the time to develop those individual 1:1 connections. Last year, ASU Prep Digital teachers planned park days, scavenger hunts and field trips to meet up with families for learning fun and additional relationship building.  

Clubs and community involvement  

Students need a safe space to explore interests, strengthen skills, and build their resume–as well as connect with others who have a similar passion. Clubs and extracurricular activities are a great way for students to get involved and make friends outside of taking courses. ASU Prep Digital offers nearly three dozen clubs, with more being added based on students’ feedback and interests. Robotics, National Honor Society, Model UN, veterinary club, and creative writing are just a few to choose from. 

Families are also encouraged to connect with the university community and utilize available resources.

“Arizona State University is number 1 for innovation and we extend that thinking to our digital world,” said Sirotkin. “The school, administrators, teachers—everybody has a responsibility to get the family involved. We’re learning and willing to try things to build that connection to community and to families.”

With a firm partnership in place to support students both in and outside of the classroom, ASU PD students are connected at the core, and poised to achieve.  

Resources

25 Years of School and Family Connections  
National Network of Partnership Schools  

Ways to Build Community in Online Classrooms

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Keep online school students and families engaged 

An essential part of learning is the interaction that happens when students have the opportunity to connect with their peers and with their teacher. Effective online learning—especially in the formative elementary years—requires finding ways to make these interactions a reality. Let’s look at four ways ASU Prep Digital builds community and keeps students and families engaged.  

Parent involvement

Families are a critical component to the success of any learning program, even more so in the virtual learning environment. At a brick-and-mortar school, you may not hear from your child’s teachers after parent/teacher conferences unless your child is struggling in a class. In online schools, there are many opportunities for parent and family involvement.

One idea is to create training courses for parents. Emily Mulvihill, M.Ed., online elementary school assistant principal, shared how ASU Prep Digital created sessions for families to help keep them engaged and support their children with digital learning. Based on feedback from parents, Family University consisted of two different professional development sessions a week. From offering tips on how to help students navigate assessments in a virtual environment to time management to building growth-mindset in students, they share many ways to support online students.

Mulvihill, a 15-year education veteran, the last 10 with digital learning, said, “Family University was another way to give families a voice and connect with one another—it provided a way where they may have not met with one another.”

Set aside time to build community

Socialization is very important, especially in the digital environment. ASU knows it may take a minute or two for a student to warm up, so they have built time into the day to socialize. In fact, elementary students spend the first hour of each day in what’s known as huddle time. Recognizing the importance of building community, teachers have reserved that hour for students to share stories, review academic content, play games, and engage in emotional/social activities. LSC Homeroom, typically held weekly, is another opportunity. Academic in nature, it’s a time to read stories, have group discussion, or hear from a guest speaker.

Mulvihill said teachers hold virtual holiday parties and other community building events that support the calendar year where students engage in activities such as crafts for Mother’s Day. “We’ve hosted a cultural diversity day where students are invited to speak to their different backgrounds and tell their story. They have fun while learning and building relationships,” she said. 

Learning Success Coach

Each student at ASU Prep Digital is assigned a Learning Success Coach. The Learning Success Coach gets to know the student’s needs and learning style, establishes individualized short- and long-term goals, and works closely with the child’s teachers and family. Communication among coaches, students, and families is frequent, regardless of whether the student is excelling or needs a little extra help. This personalized approach is another way of creating a community of support.  

Clubs and pods

ASU Prep Digital offers a variety of online clubs for students to join. From STEM, Chess Club, Spanish, Art, and more, students have many opportunities to engage outside of the classroom in interests. There are even occasions to gather in person at community events, such as prom. This year, ASU Prep Digital is piloting pods where parents lead the location oriented and organized pod and plan regional virtual or in-person family/student meetups or study sessions.  

“We are always looking for ways to connect students in and out of the classroom,” said Mulvihill. “We take seriously the social-emotional aspect of our students’ lives as it helps develop them academically as well.”

Partner with ASU Prep Digital

ASU Prep Digital is an accredited online K-12 school providing districts with single online courses, full-time virtual programs, innovative learning recovery solutions, and professional development options. We would love to collaborate and develop a customized program for your school’s needs. For information about partnering with ASU Prep Digital, please email partnership@asuprep.org.