A New School Model Helps Rural Districts Boost Enrollment and Ensure...

PK-12 School Models

A New School Model Helps Rural Districts Boost Enrollment and Ensure Student Success

from Hāpara

By Erin Harding     Jul 18, 2017

A New School Model Helps Rural Districts Boost Enrollment and Ensure Student Success

In Bentley, Alberta, Canada, missing school is just part of life. On winter days of extreme cold, buses don’t run and schools are closed. In warmer seasons, many students work in the local farming community, helping with harvests. Still others are competitive athletes, with tournaments taking them out of class.

These are just a few of the challenges facing Lane Moore, principal at Bentley High School in the Wolf Creek Public School district. Like many small rural high schools, Bentley has also been challenged by a lack of resources and declining enrollment. Students have steadily headed to larger schools, where they believed they had more access to more academic resources. Every learner who didn’t enroll at Bentley equated to lost educational resources; the community faced the possibility of losing its high school.

Moore couldn’t control the weather, but he could turn his attention to challenges where he would have impact. He needed to find a new model for teaching and learning that would provide learners in his community with the same high quality academic opportunities they would receive at a larger school, as well as a more student-centered approach that reflected the realities of the community. Families needed a flexible learning environment in which students could miss a few days of school due to inclement weather, a tournament, or harvest time—without falling behind.

Finding a New Model

Because the traditional school structure was not working at Bentley, Moore wanted to ensure that any changes he made created the best possible opportunities for his students. To start, he and his staff examined the research behind traditional high school models, online learning, self-directed programs in which learners work independently, and more customized outreach programs—traveling to see how these programs worked in other schools. Moore then invited teachers, students, parents, district leaders and school council members to all take part in the decision process by attending regular community meetings.

In the first stage of the transformation, Moore and his staff implemented a program that took elements from a variety of school models and combined them into a solution tailored for Bentley. They ditched the traditional five, 80-minute blocks a day and replaced them with a totally revamped approach. Learners instead spent their mornings in traditional class settings, receiving direct instruction and participating in group discussions. Afternoons, however, were available for flexible tutorial time, during which students could work independently, study with peers, or meet with teachers—focusing on whatever they might need that day.

As part of the new format, teachers moved their class materials online, using a mix of websites and apps including Google Sites, Weebly, YouTube, EdPuzzle and more—enabling learners to work at their own pace. This helped to solve some of the major challenges Bentley students faced. If a student couldn’t get to school—due to weather, sports or family obligations—he or she could still keep up with the work.

Moore’s new model helped to make the curriculum more flexible and personalized. But if Bentley was going to compete with bigger schools, its students still needed more options in terms of class choice and access to high quality academic content.

Late in the 2015-2016 school year, district level administrators from Wolf Creek Public Schools approached Moore’s team about developing a pilot online program, the Enhanced Learning Model (ELM). Educators at Bentley and another pilot school would work with district leaders to take flexible, personalized learning to the next level. Instead of individual teachers uploading materials to different websites and apps for learners to access, in the new model, entire courses could be hosted online.

Greg Esteves, the Tech Services Director in Wolf Creek, and Sean Lougheed, the Learning Services Director, worked with this pilot cohort to get everything in place before the ELM was implemented.

For Esteves, that meant making sure that the courses would be hosted on a platform that was reliable, and wouldn’t require a huge learning curve for teachers and learners. Wolf Creek had already been using Hapara products for some time, and when Workspace was introduced, it seemed like the perfect fit. He also needed to make sure that the pilot schools had the infrastructure in place to support online learning. This included improving the wireless internet, ensuring access to mobile devices and a high standard of tech and training support.

To ensure that all Wolf Creek learners could access high quality content, no matter which school they attended, Lougheed and Esteves assembled a team of experts from around the district to build the Enhanced Learning Model courses over one summer break.

The team began by working with learning coaches to establish the technical skills needed to create content and organize learning in this new model. Then, they worked through an intensive course-mapping process that included asking big questions like, “What does learning look like?” “What are the key critical outcomes that need to be covered?” and “What does mastery of that content look like?” From there the team worked backwards to chunk the content, putting it into an online space that would be manageable for learners. Each course built with Workspace includes clearly stated goals and expectations, as well a variety of online learning resources that students can keep track of from one location.

A key aspect of the ELM pilot has been Wolf Creek’s focus on supporting its teachers by encouraging collaboration and providing access to coaches. As teachers at Bentley implement the courses, they’re able to reach out to the educators who wrote the content to ask questions and discuss improvements. District learning coaches help with everything from understanding the actual technology to helping differentiate lessons to better meet learner needs.

The Results

Less than a year into implementing the Enhanced Learning Model, Bentley is already seeing results—the most exciting of them being that students are taking and finding success in more academic courses. Austin, a ninth grader, says that she likes the new system “because it’s enabled me to take a lot more classes.” She currently takes a grade eleven social studies class and grade ten science class that are offered at the same time. “Normally, I wouldn’t be able to take those two courses, or I’d have to have hours of homework,” she explains. But with the new model, she can access her science content online through Hapara to work on during tutorial time, and she can go to her social studies class for lectures with her teacher.

Learners at Bentley are no longer held back by limited resources. In fact, Austin is one of several students working on material a whole grade level ahead. For Moore, this is exciting because it gives these learners time to focus on real problems and explore areas of interest more deeply. He says, “It allows us the flexibility to have kids tell us what they want to learn and where they want to go with it.” Bentley is also seeing increased enrollment. Learners from neighboring communities who want more flexible schedules are choosing Bentley over their home schools.

Overall, the pilot is going well and Wolf Creek district administrators have begun assisting other schools to expand its implementation. The courses now support learners in Wolf Creek’s summer school program and will continue to expand to all of the district’s eighth and ninth grades. It’s still early to determine the overall impact of this model on performance on standardized exams, but the pilot schools are already seeing evidence of increased performance.

As Principal Lane Moore says, “We had to build a culture so that we could do what everybody else could. We needed to do it differently, but we knew we could do it.”

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