Heather Hiebsch, principal at Poudre School District Global Academy, shares four lessons for creating a successful hybrid school
Several of our high schools in Poudre School District (PSD), Fort Collins, Colo., serve more than 2,000 students each, and for the vast majority, these are positive places to learn and excel.
But there are also students whose needs are not met in a large, traditional school – students who, for a variety of reasons, need a smaller environment and more individualized attention to succeed. This is the story of a school that was created to serve these non-traditional students and the lessons we learned along the way.
Six years ago, our district created the PSD Global Academy, and I was hired to launch the school. Our charge was to provide students with online learning opportunities. We partnered with personalized learning solutions provider Aventa Learning – now Fuel Education (FuelEd) – and started by serving a few high school students, primarily targeting dropout prevention and recovery.
Lesson 1: Students need to feel they belong somewhere
Soon, we saw that our students weren’t succeeding, but we knew they had much more potential than was showing in the data. These students weren’t completing their courses, and almost none of them returned the next year. While there were various reasons that students dropped out, we knew that one of the keys to engaging students in any kind of learning is to provide opportunities for affiliation with their school – something we weren’t doing well in a solely online environment. Learning exclusively online from home, they considered PSD Global Academy a temporary measure to get back on track, rather than “their school.”
To remedy students’ feelings of being unanchored, we secured a small modular building in the second year and hired a local school counselor. At that time, we shifted to a full K-12 school, hired local teachers and implemented a hybrid model of online and classroom learning. The next year, having outgrown our space, we moved into a former elementary school. We then expanded our offerings at PSD Global Academy, attracting a wide range of students, including those seeking accelerated courses. We also saw an influx of elementary students – including former homeschoolers – and secondary students looking for a smaller learning environment.
(Next page: Hybrid lessons 2-4)