STEP up to learning: Blended learning program utilizes online classes

Written by Administrator
 | Wednesday, 19 February 2014 15:48

Students who are struggling may now have a chance to catch up to their peers with a “blended learning” program.

The brand-new program was created by director of Guidance Lisa Dembowsi and DHS Assistant Principal Marc Talbot. Blended learning is a formal education program that utilizes technology in conjunction with traditional “brick and mortar” learning. It’s a flexible learning program where the student has some control over the courses, pace of the course and the instruction.

Dembowski said the program is “personalized learning.” She highlighted budget, mental health and anxiety issues and hindrances to learning and said this program helps to combat some of those issues while putting the student at the center of the learning program. For students who are struggling to stay on pace with the courses at school, Dembowski said the program would give them the support and help them stay on track with their courses. For students who find that they are not challenged enough, the program allows them to take more advanced classes that Duxbury cannot offer.

Marc Talbot, DHS assistant principal,  said since the program was started, he and Dembowski have begun to see the potential of the program grow. When the program was started last year, it was focused solely on helping students with social and emotional disabilities who could not attend school stay on track.

STEP stands for Success, Transistion, Enrichment and Pathways. The success portion of the program aims to improve truancy (absence) rate. Talbot said he hopes the program will help the at risk population who are, for example, seniors who are five credits behind and can utilize the program to get back on track. There are currently two seniors set up to fulfill their credits through the blended learning program in order to graduate with their class this spring. 

The transition portion of the program aims to assist students who are transferring into Duxbury from another district as well as students who are transitioning into the high school from eighth grade. If a student came from another high school

with different graduation requirements and had to take biology to graduate, for example, that student would be able to take that course online in conjunction with their traditional course load at the school.

Another aspect of the program Talbot and Dembowski are starting to realize is the enrichment portion which will help a student take a course in addition to and on top of what is expected of him or her at the “brick and mortar” high school. The most popular of those courses are advanced placement courses that are not of- fered at the high school.

The original component of the program, the pathways program, aims to help students create pathways for success. For example, if a student at the middle school was failing two or more classes, he or she would be able to utilize the blended learning program through a summer education program to get back on track. In addition, this portion of the program is utilized to help stu- dents with social and emotional disabilities. One component of the pathways program, HEAL, specifically targets students with those disabilities who are unable to enter the school and attend classes in person.

HEAL, which stands for Homebound Education and Alternative Learning, is designed for students who are struggling with the “brick and mortar” element in school. It is different from a regular seat in the STEP program because there are wraparound services embedded in the HEAL program. In addition to the traditional STEP services, a learning coach is assigned to the student as a liaison that communicates with the student, parent and teachers. The students also receive an individual learning plan that must be strictly followed.

The curriculum offers college, honors and AP courses, as well as courses specific to grades K-5 and 6-12.

Right now, there are 10 seats that fully operational and filled at this point at $3,300 per seat. Duxbury currently has one student enrolled in the HEAL program which is slightly more expensive per seat. The school is working with the Duxbury Education Foundation through a grant to raise money for the program and hopes to buy 10 more seats in the program for more students in the future. Current guidance counselors have been assigned as mentors to the students enrolled in the STEP program and are being paid $30 an hour. The students in the program utilize the transition room at the high school as their classroom when they are taking the courses.

“I think it’s proactive,” Talbot said. “Particularly with the truancy aspect and keeping kids in school. I see a real opportunity here to have an impact in those areas.”

The two students who are currently enrolled in the program check in with either Dembowski or Talbot every Wednesday and work from 3 to 5 p.m. on their online courses.

“They have to show commitment that they are going to come in and do that,” Talbot said. “We are confident they will do that because they want to graduate in June as well. We are also confident they will complete the course very quickly given that two hour commitment.”

School Committee member Maureen Connolly thanked Dembowski for her two presentations before the committee.

“I am very impressed with what you are doing in Guidance,” she said.