With the cool fall air also comes the back to school rush as parents storm school supply aisles, students dream of the newest electronic gadget they might need for classes, and school administrators and teachers take on new pedagogical challenges.
One of those challenges can be creating a vibrant, socially academic environment for students and families in addition to cultivating a rich and thriving school community through a fully online learning program.
But, with programs like Fuel Education’s Strong Start, parents, as well as school administrators and teachers, can jump into the new school year with confidence. The program has been established to enable students in full-time online schools to flourish not just throughout the school year but into the summer months as well with various support systems in place for the entire school body.
Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with Stacy Croft, Senior Manager of Full-time Programs at FuelEd, to discuss some of the ways Strong Start is preparing school communities, from administration to students, for a strong start to the school year, in addition to providing support and engagement throughout the school year and into the summer.
Here’s what Ms. Croft had to say:
LOtL: What is the Strong Start program and how does it reinforce other FuelEd programs?
Stacy Croft (SC): The goal of the Strong Start program is to encourage students and their families to be engaged right upon enrollment. We make things available to them to encourage involvement within the school and FuelEd community before school starts.
We provide families the opportunity to take part in online student clubs, national parent workshops, live orientations, and a whole lot more. We also send out regular emails with tips on scheduling classes and organizing their time. Families are able to pick and choose how they’d like to participate.
The idea is that students start strong and stay strong.
LOtL: How does the program help newly enrolled students with a smooth transition to the online school?
SC: The Strong Start initiative offers live overview sessions online through our online learning platform for newly enrolled students, where we talk about the program and the partnership between their school and FuelEd.
These sessions serve two purposes: they inform students and families about the program and, since the session itself is delivered via our online platform, students and parents are exposed to the virtual experience and to the virtual, live classroom where students will get opportunities for direct instruction.
Other topics we cover during these sessions include: who is the learning coach, responsibilities of coaches and students, and the ins and outs of state testing. We also explain the differences in accountability between online learning and homeschooling. And, we offer a snapshot of the various platforms where they will access their courses.
Many times families have many questions and concerns about what they can expect, so we’ve found that these sessions are very popular. The sessions tend to calm anxiety and retain families. We’ve seen this engagement keep them interested and excited.
Additionally, we have seen great results from this early engagement already this year, as some of our Full-Time Schools (FTS) have grown their class sizes significantly.
LOtL: How are school administration and teachers equipped and encouraged to implement their own Strong Start focus within their schools’ programs?
SC: Many Strong Start programs are managed by the school district’s administration, faculty, and staff. Some need comprehensive support to cultivate a school community and bolster the overall school experience. We have developed tool kits for administrators and teachers, including welcome emails and suggestions for back to school activities, in addition to other ways to encourage engagement with families from the start.
We also want to help newer faculty and staff that need assistance, as they may be new to the program just as their students are new to it. For example, we may spend time talking to administration about how to write and distribute a student handbook, so that the school can communicate to families what is expected of them. In addition, we share best practices from our most successful schools.
LOtL: While Strong Start is aimed at the beginning of the school year, there is also year-round learning support like Learning Liftoff. How do these sorts of resources encourage year-round learning?
SC: When students start off the school year, the goal is to establish a way to keep them engaged throughout the school year. For example, we encourage schools and families to carry on with their school clubs year round. FTS also have an entire network of parents, students and educators across the country that can provide ideas and support year round.
Learning Liftoff, our newsletter about full-time online schooling, has timely and relevant articles developed to enrich their learning experience. In addition to offering a lot of games and other creative ideas, it also helps inform families about some typical school struggles and online learning challenges, and offers tips and solutions for overcoming them.
LOtL: Do you have anything you’d like to add about Strong Start?
SC: The purpose of this program is to lift the initial burden for schools and administration at the beginning of each year by engaging students and families early on. That way they can focus on the greater goal of enabling their students to do well all year long!
We have some incredible people who have worked diligently to bring all of these pieces of the Strong Start puzzle together. We have plans to make Strong Start even better and are excited to see where the program will go; we’ve already seen what amazing things it can do in the short term.