Historically, Louisiana school districts are among the lowest performing in the country; however, with the implementation of post-Katrina educational standards, additional funding from the Louisiana Department of Education for supplemental courses, and the adoption of online and blended learning, some Louisiana educators are reaching at-risk kids in rural areas more effectively than ever before.
In areas where there are many at-risk students, the importance of pacing and allowing a student to dictate how quickly he or she moves through curriculum is integral to a successful Response to Intervention (RTI) approach. Additionally, online and blended learning tools make this one-size-fits-all pacing doable for students as well as teachers. Learning Outside of the Lines had the opportunity to sit down with an educator from Jefferson Parish, LaDonna Despaux.
Mrs. Despaux teaches 4th graders in the small fishing community of Jean Lafitte, just south of New Orleans, LA. She speaks here on some of the challenges involved in teaching in such a rural area and how beneficial online tools have been in reaching students who are frequently more focused on joining the family business than day-to-day classroom activities.
LOtL: How do you approach at-risk kids in the classroom?
Mrs. Despaux: As a teacher, I have to carefully consider my approach and find the best means of reaching each student individually. I live in a rural fishing community and several of my male students are already involved with the family commercial fishing business, which does not require any formal education.
As a result, if I want to succeed at making these students effective inside of the classroom, I have to constantly make a real-life connection between their lives outside of the classroom and the lesson at hand. For example, if we’re working on a writing skill, I have to select topics that they can relate to, such as swamp tours, hurricanes, and the BP oil spill. I choose timely and relevant topics and use them in conjunction with online programs to keep students engaged.
When a child has a vast interest in a topic, whether it’s due to tragic circumstances or just a plain life experience, they all have a story to tell, and they are more than willing to tell it through their writing. Additionally, the implementation of online learning and technology maintains student engagement beyond the topic at hand.
Also, our school has found success with at-risk students through RTI. Students who demonstrate a weakness in a particular skill become part of a pull-out intervention program. The student attends interventions for a two-week period, is re-tested on the skill, and is released when the skill has been mastered. Through this type of consistent, intense program we have had over ninety percent of our students pass the annual LEAP test for 4th grade during the past two years.
LOtL: Do other online tools and strategies contribute? Are there any alternative learning options you may have used for at-risk kids leveraging online tools?
Mrs. Despaux: Yes, definitely. Sometimes I cannot imagine planning a lesson without integrating content from online sources, including Pinterest. If we want to keep our students engaged and challenged, we must look further than the traditional textbook.
Additionally, our school has utilized many different online platforms like Louisiana Pass. On a daily basis, I use these tools in my classroom not only as enrichment, but also as LEAP test prep, an extension of the lesson at hand, or to re-teach a skill.
The students complete these activities either on an as-needed basis or as part of a rotating schedule within learning centers. It is vital to allow students time to learn via technology, especially as we move forward to one day taking the PARCC assessment, which is completely testable on-line.
LOtL: In addition to online tools, does collaboration with teachers and administrators come into play when addressing issues for at-risk students?
Mrs. Despaux: Yes, absolutely. Collaboration is a crucial part of finding successful ways to increase student achievement. I have found that since our school has increased collaboration efforts between administrators and teachers, we have seen a drastic improvement in student achievement. Presently, according to Louisiana School Performance Scores, our school is rated as a ‘B+’ and is only a few points away from a solid ‘A’ rating. We are confident that with further collaborative efforts and implementation of more online resources that we will reach an ‘A’ rating soon.
As you can see from Mrs. Despaux’s responses, online learning is a crucial element to modern learning and enabling at-risk students, not just at urban magnet schools and charters but also in small, rural schools in the Louisiana swamp. The reach of online learning is far—and paramount to student success.
Is your school district facing a similar situation? Click here to view online resources that may be helpful.