Lesson 2: Achievement soars with a winning learning model

As we grew, we gave students the choice of strictly online courses or a hybrid schedule, where they could take online courses from home and attend classes on campus twice a week. In their days on campus, students would be involved in inquiry-based, hands-on projects – learning opportunities that are difficult to do online and/or from home. Our daily schedule also included more opportunities for special electives such as art, PE and music. We knew our hybrid learning format was an effective model, but we were amazed to see that the students who opted for it achieved significantly higher scores on state assessments – seven times higher than those who did not. At that point, we moved to an exclusively hybrid model.

We continue our partnership with FuelEd in providing online curriculum for all of our middle and high school courses, and use FuelEd’s partner, K-12, for our elementary student curriculum. Our own instructors teach the core online courses, so students are interacting with the same teachers whether they are learning at home or on campus. We also offer our secondary students a vast library of online electives, primarily taught by FuelEd instructors.

Lesson 3: A robust orientation paves the way

Along the way, we discovered the importance of a comprehensive orientation to set up students for success. We now spend the entire first week of school with orientation and training activities so students know what to expect and parents are prepared to be teaching partners (our at-home Learning Coaches). We have also taken steps to boost parent participation, including matching each new parent with a veteran parent mentor, and holding parent professional development classes.

Our teachers truly are pioneers (also our school mascot) in finding the best ways to serve our students in a hybrid learning model, and their innovation knows no bounds. For example, our four core high school teachers collaborated to build an advisory course about non-cognitive skills that students will need to succeed in school and in life. Our students benefit greatly from learning about developing grit, motivation, perseverance, a positive mindset and fostering healthy relationships.

Lesson 4: Focusing on your vision helps every student succeed

Today, we serve more than 150 full-time students each semester at PSD Global Academy, and we are seeing the results of our focus on individual student growth. Our school ranked among the highest in the state of Colorado for student growth across all grades for the 2013-14 school year in reading, writing and math. This achievement marks the first time a school using blended and online learning has ranked in the top five percent of all Colorado schools – including traditional brick-and-mortar schools, charter schools and other online schools.

Through our hybrid model, students have the best of both worlds. Online courses offer them flexibility and personalized learning, while the campus setting offers students support, community, and opportunities for hands-on learning.

The solution was in taking a global vision of how best to reach students in a nontraditional learning environment and implementing that vision in a very local way that would meet our students’ needs. Our teachers are poring over data, partnering with parents, and are truly committed to helping every student grow. Our students are engaged in learning and excelling in their classes.

In our hybrid setting, students are receiving the benefits of personalized online learning, academic interventions that connect school and home, and also enjoying the affiliation that comes with being part of a school community. Our kids are joining clubs, participating in student council, creating a yearbook, competing for spirit weeks and attending movie nights on campus. Students, staff and parents have worked hard to create an innovative learning community – and now PSD Global Academy is “our school.”

Heather Hiebsch is principal at Poudre School District Global Academy.