Colorado Hybrid School Lays the Groundwork for Extraordinary Achievement


Thursday, September 10, 2015 - 10:45am

Since 2009, FuelEd has been partnering with Poudre School District Global Academy (PGA), an innovative public school in Fort Collins, Colo., led by a pioneer in online and blended learning, principal Heather Hiebsch. PGA started out small, as a strictly online alternative for high school students in need of credit recovery. Today, PGA has grown to be a hybrid school with nearly 200 K-12 students, and achievement is nothing short of extraordinary, both in proficiency and growth.

The most recent scores for grades 2-8 in math and reading on year-to-year Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP®) assessments improved by 140 to 240 percent, with the highest scores in grades 6-8 – when students typically see a slight decline. In addition, the number of students being held back a grade dropped in the 2014-15 school year by nearly two-thirds – from 19 down to 7. In addition, PGA is not only ranked among the top schools in this high-performing district but also in the top 5 percent of all K-12 schools in Colorado.

Using FuelEd online content for all of the middle and high school courses, PGA students work at home, at their own pace, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays each week, and attend teacher-led classes on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Our partner, K12, provides the elementary student curriculum. Local PGA instructors teach the core online courses, so students work under the direction of the same teachers whether at home or on campus. Secondary students can choose from a vast library of online electives taught by our FuelEd instructors.

Heather tells us that she hears from students all the time that the hybrid model gives them the best of both worlds – they have the independence of learning at their own pace from home, but they also have the social connection and one-on-one help from teachers. 

However, today’s success at PGA did not come without lessons learned along the way. The initial online-only option proved to offer too little scaffolding to the fragile population of students needing to recover credits or in danger of dropping out. Typical students would enroll for just a year while they addressed other issues in their lives. Some students didn’t complete their courses, and few returned the following year.

That’s why Heather led PGA to a whole new model serving students from kindergarten to grade 12, with the goal of building a strong school community where students felt they belonged. She and her staff hired local teachers and a counselor, moved the school into a building and implemented a hybrid model of online and classroom learning. Students at all grade levels seeking a smaller, personalized learning environment filled the modular building. The population included former homeschoolers, those seeking credit recovery, students with learning disabilities and those seeking accelerated courses.

At that time, students had the option of working exclusively from home on online courses or choosing a hybrid schedule that combined online, at-home study with on-campus learning. The faculty soon discovered that the students who opted for the hybrid model achieved at considerably higher rates – seven times greater than those who chose the online-only option. The next year, the school moved into a larger space – a former elementary school – to accommodate the growing population and made the shift to an exclusively hybrid model.

Today, more and more students are returning to PGA each year, and there is even a wait list for some grade levels. There is a solid partnership with parents, as well as a sense of community among students, teachers and parents. Membership in the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization tripled this year. Heather says that students in the primary grades talk about how they plan to continue their schooling through graduation at PGA. She said PGA’s focus on the individual student has been key to its success.

Heather cannot say enough good things about the educators at PGA, describing a special mindset and purpose she sees in all of them. Some have even accepted part-time contracts when they were looking for full-time because they believed so strongly in the vision at PGA. They are building positive relationships with students and using data on a daily basis to make teaching decisions.

The teachers and administrators at PGA work hand in hand with us at FuelEd to deliver the right instruction at the right time for every student. The FuelEd curriculum is tailored to each student’s unique needs, and allows for integration of teacher-created content and other resources. Lesson planning at PGA is a daily event.

Since the school opened, more than 500 PGA students have used Fuel Education curriculum. In addition, each school year about 500 students at other Poudre School District schools take supplemental online courses, such as AP courses, world languages and electives, provided by FuelEd.

Heather reports that FuelEd has been flexible and responsive in meeting PGA’s changing needs – from its days in helping high school students recover credits online to the high-achieving, personalized hybrid K-12 school it is today. It’s been a pleasure for us to collaborate with the talented educators at PGA and to be a part of their incredible success. 


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