Well-Deserved Recognition for a School That Transforms Students into Confident, Enthusiastic Learners

May 17, 2016

 

Contributor: 
Amanda Cunningham
Thursday, May 19, 2016 - 9:30am

In this post of Learning Outside the Lines, we are proud to spotlight the winner of Fuel Education’s 2016 Transformation Award. Each year, we recognize schools that are transforming education for their students through innovative online and blended learning programs. 

This year’s winner is a school in Idaho’s Bonneville Joint School District that offers a personalized, flexible learning structure for K–8 students that enables them to have a successful academic experience from the comfort of their own homes.

Student Transformation Spotlight

In the fall of 2015, nine-year old Gabe enrolled at Bonneville Online School (BOS) with a medical diagnosis of ADHD and dyslexia, as well as behavioral issues with his previous brick-and-mortar school. After initially being placed in grade-level curriculum, his learning coach—his mother—immediately realized that his reading and other learning skills were well below grade level. Gabe felt defeated by the learning process and his motivation to learn was low.

Gabe’s mother and teachers quickly met as a team and began a special education referral process. They learned that, although there were significant holes in his learning, Gabe was highly capable and just needed the support of the right curriculum, a teacher who was willing to provide appropriate modifications, and a loving learning coach. They determined that no IEP was needed—instead, a 504 (defining accommodations) and the right curriculum were ordered.

A semester later, Gabe is a dramatically different student than he was when he entered BOS. He is confident and enthusiastic about his learning, and he's setting his own learning pace. He puts in the extra effort needed to stay on track and even works on Saturday mornings and school vacation days! Gabe loves his new school environment and sees himself as an online, at-home learner until he graduates!

Gabe with his learning coach and teachers accepting the 2016 Transformation Award.

How Was This Transformation Possible?

Bonneville Online School (BOS) was founded in 2010 at the request of a group of local parents who wanted an in-district online school that offered a superintendent-approved curriculum. Today, the school serves more than 100 students in grades K–8. Students have the flexibility to complete FuelEd courses at their own pace with guidance from a learning coach and one of BOS’ three teachers.

BOS Blended Learning Lab located in the BOS office

“We are a public school at home,” says Shelley Andrus, lead teacher K–8. “Any student within a 60-mile radius is eligible to enroll at BOS. Many of our students have been homeschooled and are making the transition to public school. We also serve students with chronic illnesses who aren’t able to attend a brick-and-mortar school as well as students with behavior issues or learning challenges who need more one-to-one attention.”

In addition to Ms. Andrus, BOS has three teachers, one each for grades K–3, 4–6, and 7–8. Students work at their own pace during the day at home, with the support of their learning coach—usually a parent—who takes on the responsibility for daily instructions, weekly pacing, and communicating with the instructor.

Teachers connect with students using the technology the family is most comfortable with, including phone, email, and text. The teachers are on Google Hangout all day, so students can text their teacher at any time and get immediate help. Teachers also schedule Class Connects and Google Hangouts with students. The immediate availability and ability to intervene at the point of need helps build a level of trust between students and their teachers.

“The most important measure of success is seeing students excited to learn!”

Ms. Andrus, lead teacher K-8
Bonneville Online School

That relationship is strengthened every Thursday when students can come to an auxiliary gym, donated to the district when the Navy base closed down, and work with their teachers face-to-face. Nearly 60 percent of the students attend the optional sessions where they connect with other students and work on group activities. Learning coaches also meet once a month to share tips and learn new teaching strategies.

The connection between teachers, students, and learning coaches is further enhanced during field trips to local venues. Past trips have included visiting the ARTitorium, a hands-on art and technology center for children; playing laser tag; and going to a trampoline park. In addition, the Parent Teacher Organization sponsors three holiday parties each year.

BOS measures student success by their participation in Thursday sessions, the level of direct communication with teachers, and growth and proficiency assessments. Students also take state-required achievement tests where student score at the same level as their brick-and-mortar cohorts.

Ms. Andrus attributes the school’s success to three guiding principles:

  • Flexibility within Constraints: Students have the flexibility to complete schoolwork in the morning or evening, at home or on the road, at a desk or in a bean bag chair. As part of a public school program, they also have the responsibility to achieve and record progress within set timelines.
  • Modify in the Moment: If students encounter a barrier to completing a lesson, the learning coach is empowered to change the requirement so the student can continue. When the learning coach notifies the teacher about the change, the teacher supports the change, and, if necessary, offers suggestions for handling the issue if it arises again.
  • Defended Mastery: Students used to have to score 80 percent or higher to prove mastery before they could move on to the next lesson. Now, when students score from 70–79 percent, the students review missed questions with their learning coach, either defending their answers or correcting mistakes, to prove they know the material. This allows students to focus on the material they don’t know rather than repeat what they already mastered in the assessment to achieve 80 percent or higher.

The most important measure of success, Ms. Andrus explains, is seeing students excited to learn!

A local Idaho news station covered the 2016 Transformation Award ceremony to spotlight BOS for their innovative approach to education and all the success they have helped their students achieve.

 

 

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