Distance Learning

Using Online Learning To Support At-Risk Students

Windsor High School in Connecticut is using online learning to provide remediation for students at risk of not graduating on time and to support students with special needs.

Windsor's Learning Lab
Windsor is a grade 9-12 comprehensive high school with more than 1,100 students from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, some of whom struggle to graduate on time. Several years ago, the school created a special service called the Learning Lab to help students who were having difficulty academically. "It's the one-stop shopping place to get academic support beyond what your teacher can give you in the building," said Russell Sills, principal of Windsor High School.

The Learning Lab can help students with credit recovery, but ultimately Sills and the Learning Lab facilitator, Cathleen Lavallee, said they would like to have fewer students each year doing credit recovery, and more getting supplemental support and remediation. "We started purely as credit recovery and we've grown from there," said Sills. "We still have a substantial credit recovery program, but we're trying to outgrow that part of the work and make sure we catch kids before they fail and provide the support along the way."

Any student in the school can seek help through the Learning Lab, either by coming in and asking for it themselves, or through the recommendation of a teacher. Lavallee then works with the student or teacher to help them come up with a plan to help the student succeed.

"Most children that need remediation usually end up needing more than one method to help them," said Lavallee. "So if they're getting credit recovery, we're probably also working with them after school. Some of them are doing online learning at home and using it to help them keep up with their current studies. Many students who struggle need multiple interventions to get them back where we need them to be."

Online Learning To Support At-Risk Students
The school implemented computer-assisted learning for the Learning Lab several years ago, and last year the school's graduation rate increased 11 percentage points. "The reason for the increase is because this class from last year was the first year that we had the Learning Lab all four years," said Sills.

But despite the success of the Learning Lab, Sills and Lavallee were no longer satisfied with the software they were using for computer-assisted learning. "At the time they were good, four or five years ago, but as anything evolves, they did not evolve in the way that we needed it to," said Lavallee. In particular, the school's curriculum supervisors said they weren't satisfied with the academic rigor of the program.

This year they switched to Edgenuity, an online learning platform that includes core curriculum and elective courses for grades 6-12. The school started using it for its 2014 summer school and is currently in its first semester using it with the Learning Lab. A few of the school's teachers are also piloting the tool for blended learning with select students to provide them with supplemental learning in the classroom.

According to Lavallee, Edgenuity meets more rigorous academic standards, with more engaging presentation of content and deeper level questions. With the school's previous online learning software, students could just cut and paste the answers from Google, whereas the questions in Edgenuity demand more of the students. "Although the kids are moaning and groaning, they actually like this better," said Lavallee, and she thinks it's because the students feel a greater sense of accomplishment.

Currently, 234 students at Windsor High School are using Edgenuity for credit recovery, initial credit or supplemental learning. Some of them are identified as special needs, some of them are hospital homebound, some are school phobic, and some just need extra help in the content areas.

"A great example is math," said Sills. "Math is one of our primary challenge areas for a lot of our kids, and so students who are struggling in math could come to us and be enrolled in an Edgenuity Algebra I class at the same time they're taking Algebra I with their classroom teacher."

Special Education Students
Windsor High School currently has 40 special education students that are using Edgenuity as a foundational part of their curriculum. When a special education student enters the program, Lavallee meets with the special education staff. Together, they look at the state standards and the student's individual education program (IEP), and they tailor the student's course in Edgenuity.

Because those students are working at different levels, and because Edgenuity is highly customizable, the staff can individualize the program to the needs of each student. "We put something together that we know is appropriate for this particular student, and the beauty of it is that we can amend it at any time," said Lavallee. "If we find that it's too easy or too hard, we can go back in and modify it just for that one particular student."

School Phobic Kids
The Learning Lab and Edgenuity have also enabled Windsor High School to bring in some students who otherwise would not attend school. There are currently six students at the school who are identified as "school phobic," meaning they are overwhelmed by being in a building with 1,100 other kids. "Most of these kids have above average intelligence," said Sills. "They just don't do school, and they don't do groups."

For school phobic kids, the challenge is primarily one of getting them in the building, rather than an academic problem. The school provides a room with an exterior access, so they can get into the building without having to confront the masses. Those students use Edgenuity under the direction of a special ed teacher leader, and they work with tutors. There's close alignment between the Edgenuity curriculum and the school's classroom instruction. With Edgenuity, the school can provide those students with a "rigorous quality curriculum, to keep them on board until we can transition them back into regular classrooms," said Sills.

The ultimate goal is to help the school phobic students gradually incorporate themselves into more and more of the school day. Initially they come to school for one or two periods in the morning and then go home, and the school encourages them to stay longer if they can. "We also try then to integrate them into the social environment of the school: visit a classroom, visit a math classroom, visit the cafeteria during lunch," said Sills. "Our goal is eventually to transition them completely out of that classroom into a regular schedule."

The program for the social phobic kids is new this year with the introduction of Edgenuity, and Sills reports that they're already having good success with the students. "We're getting kids to come to school that we weren't able to get to come to school before at all, so that's been the biggest bonus," said Sills. "We're still trying to learn as we go how to make those transitions back, and we haven't fully transitioned any of the students back yet 100 percent, but we're getting close to it with a couple of them."

Hospital Homebound Kids
A few of the school's students are hospital homebound, meaning they can't attend school for medical reasons. Those students have tutors who visit them for a couple of hours each school day. According to Lavallee, online learning with Edgenuity has helped those students keep up with their school work, making it easier for them to transition back to school when their health improves.

The hospital homebound students use Edgenuity at home without their tutors. Lavallee said the students find the curriculum engaging, and they can even ask questions and get help through the Edgenuity interface. Then, when the tutors arrive, they can conduct testing and provide the student with any face-to-face assistance they need. Lavallee said one of the hospital homebound students has already returned to school and is doing well.

Lab Results
Sills and Lavallee both said they believe that Edgenuity is helping the students coming through the Learning Lab. They cite the curriculum's superior academic rigor, customization for individual students, and more engaging online instruction than their previous online learning system.

The Learning Lab is helping more kids graduate from high school, according to Sill. "Our graduation requirements in Connecticut are really high," said Sills. "In the past, a kid would stumble and realize that they might have to spend another entire year at Windsor High School, so they would just give up and quit."

Consequently, the program may be giving kids more hope for the future. "It changes their life because it gives them the tools they need to go out and to be able to go and do whatever it is they want, community college, regular college, technical school," said Lavallee. "And the parents really start seeing their child in a different light. They see them as successful, they see them as working hard. Students feel better about themselves, and parents feel better about their kids. It's a win-win situation."