In its new series, "Research: Outcomes of Blended/Online Learning Programs," the Evergreen Education Group takes an in-depth look at successful blended and online programs across the nation to examine the best practices that have created tangible results. We are pleased to share with you some highlights from the Springs Studio for Academic Excellence case study.
Blended Learning Success: The Springs Studio Story
In the fall of 2010, Springs Studio for Academic Excellence (SSAE), a K–12 public school in Colorado Springs, Colorado, opened as Falcon Virtual Academy. What began as an online-only school with 59 students soon became an award-winning educational model that combines online, blended, and project-based learning to personalize instruction to more than 500 students.
SSAE boasts an impressive 82 percent retention rate from spring 2015 to fall 2015 and currently has a waitlist for admission in all grade levels.
The school has also garnered multiple awards, including, but not limited to:
- Summit Merit Award for Outstanding Design in Renovation, and the People’s Choice Award—Council of Educational Facilities Planners International (2012)
- Principal—D49 Administrator of the Year (2012)
- Colorado Online Teacher of the Year (2013)
- $20,000 Academic & Equestrian Scholarship—West Texas A&M Univ. (2015)
Additionally, SSAE students in 3rd, 6th, and 9th–11th grades outperformed other students in their grade level in the state of Colorado in English language arts, according to their Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments.
A main reason why students are attracted to SSAE is the community atmosphere. "On a scale of one to five, we are a five in what we’ve accomplished with the community of students and parents," explains Dave Knoche, the former principal at SSAE. "The relationship between school, students, and families is paramount to a successful educational experience."
Methods for Success: Rotating Schedules and Flexible Spaces
While students are not required to attend classes on campus, 88 percent of the students attend regularly. "Students coming into the building are at least 30 percent more successful," says Knoche. "Kids want a place where they can work directly with teachers and be a part of a community of students who share their school spirit. Similarly, teachers want to get to know their students on a personal, face-to-face basis."
To optimize school resources—including space, teachers, student support coaches, staff, and technology—students in different grade levels are on campus different days of the week.
The school also features an innovative open-space learning center. An architectural design firm helped SSAE transform a single-story warehouse into a modular setting that teachers and students can reconfigure for different instructional activities. Many spaces, like the art studio and science lab, are the same as those found in a traditional school, but other spaces are uniquely designed for a more collaborative, personalized learning environment. For example, the partially enclosed "huddle" area includes multiple large monitors and interactive presentation technology that enables small groups to work together and share digital content.
Springs Studio Curriculum
Fuel Education provides the online curriculum and learning platform. SSAE teachers facilitate nearly all of the FuelEd online courses with the exception of most world language courses and some electives, which are facilitated by FuelEd teachers. Students progress at their own pace, guided by a personalized learning plan developed in conjunction with their parents, teachers, and counselors.
Five full-time student support coaches (SSC) are on campus every school day to mentor, support, and counsel students—most SSCs are aspiring teachers with strong technology skills or undergraduate or graduate-level students enrolled in university education programs. "Student Support Coaches are the first-line defense for struggling students who need more individualized support," says Principal Jodi Fletcher.
Knoche praises the relationship that SSAE has with FuelEd, nothing that, "It is the combination of FuelEd products, support services, and product enhancements that enables us to function at a high level."