South Side Chicago High School's Blended Learning Success

The Evergreen Education Group's series "Research: Outcomes of Blended/Online Learning Programs," takes an in-depth look at successful blended and online programs across the nation examining the best practices that have created tangible results. We are pleased to share with you some highlights from the Charles Hamilton Houston Alternative High School portion of this series.

The Charles Hamilton Houston Alternative High School is a campus of the Youth Connections Charter School (YCCS), the leading provider of alternative education programs in the Chicago area. The school serves 175 students in grades 9-12, with a staggering 98.8 percent of these students coming from low-income households. Four core teachers, two teachers of life skills and senior seminar, and two paraprofessional staff members facilitate a blended learning curriculum in partnership with Fuel Education online curriculum solutions. Focused on learning social and cultural skill development, recovering credits to graduate, and career and college readiness, Houston Alternative strives for academic excellence in an effort to develop well rounded, successful citizens.

A Caring Background

Chicago is well known for its many sites and attractions, including theaters, sports arenas, and the downtown stores of its “Magnificent Mile.” However, a different world lies just a few miles away in the city’s South Side—an area characterized by high levels of economic inequality, homelessness, and violence. In this section of the city, schools struggle to serve students who are trying to escape poverty, avoid gangs, and survive the streets. For educators in these schools, serving the whole student is not an elaborate educational theory, it is the only possible way to succeed, because students here need support from caring adults as a precondition to learning.

At Houston Alternative, students are receiving this attention. The high level of personal touch is being facilitated by Fuel Education technology and an instructional model that blends online teachers and curriculum with onsite teachers, administrators, and support. By shifting some instructional responsibilities to the online teachers and curriculum, Houston Alternative’s leaders ensure that the school’s onsite teachers and facilitators can focus on their students’ greatest needs and see students through to success.

Program Highlights

Like most YCCS students, students at Houston Alternative enroll after months and sometimes years of being out of school. They often have chronic truancy problems, low basic skill levels, minimal credits, learning disabilities, and social challenges, including parenthood, homelessness, previous incarceration, and gang membership.

Safety issues are paramount, as students are often concerned about crossing gang boundaries to get to school. Although the school has students in grades nine through twelve, most are in 10th grade or later based on credits, and are overage/undercredited. Most of the school’s 9th graders aged out of 8th grade, and students are generally between ages 16 and 21.

Houston Alterative adheres to a conventional school schedule, but in class, teachers divide students into groups with some working on online curriculum provided by Fuel Education, and others working directly with the teacher. Teachers use Fuel Education’s PEAK platform to monitor the status of each student in the course by following student progress through lessons and on assessments.

Around 30 percent of students spend time outside of the school daily, whether at a work-study job or internship, taking a dual enrollment college course, or conducting independent study. An additional 2 percent are home bound due to safety concerns, yet are still able to progress in their studies.

Pathways to Career and Technical Education

Houston Alternative is highly focused not only on ensuring that students graduate, but also on providing college and career opportunities. Consistent with this goal, the school offers online courses from Fuel Education’s Career Readiness Pathways program, which aligns with six career and technical education pathways in Agriculture, Business Management and Administration, Health Science, Hospitality and Tourism, Information Technology, and Manufacturing.

When students arrive at Houston Alternative, they take an inventory that helps identify their interests and aptitudes. They then can choose a pathway designed to help prepare them for a certification in their chosen fields, such as Certified Nursing Assistant or Certified Pharmacy Technician. The online CTE curriculum also provides additional support in the form of certification exam preparation and career exploration. The Houston Alternative staff and teachers combine these online courses and resources with work study jobs, internships, and independent study opportunities in the community that the students can take, matching their interests and the instructional materials with real-world experience.

Read the Case Study

To read more about Charles Hamilton Houston Alternative High School's successful blended learning program, download the complete case study

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