Christine Bothun believes the pandemic has helped students a lot to learn how they learn best. By oscillating between models of learning in school and online, students had the opportunity to see what worked best for them.
However, some students wish to continue learning in a less traditional model. This is one of the main reasons the District will be offering a new Falcons Online Academy in the fall.
“We were able to learn a lot from [distance learning], but there were things that needed to be improved, so I think [Falcons Online] gives us the opportunity to offer this to students who learn best in a different way, ”said Bothun, the new e-learning coordinator for Faribault Public Schools.
In March, the Faribault School Board approved the Falcons Online Academy as an alternative learning model with federal COVID funding for elementary and secondary schools.
Tracy Corcoran, director of teaching and learning for the district, said recruiting, advertising and marketing are the main goals of the program at this point in the summer. Kindergarten to Grade 12 teachers will be hired as part of the e-learning staff and will begin work on curriculum development in August.
“All of the feedback we get is really positive,” said Corcoran. “… It’s one of those silver liners from the last 18 crazy months that really helped us identify the opportunities. [based on] what our community would like to see and build responses to those needs.
Any student entering Kindergarten to Grade 12 in the fall can enroll in Falcons Online Academy for a full education. High school students have the option of taking some courses online and others in person, which includes compulsory and elective courses. Students can enroll at any time, Bothun said, but the district is looking for commitments of at least one semester to ensure a smoother transition for students.
Thanks to Falcons Online, students in Kindergarten to Grade 5 will follow a model similar to the one the district implemented during distance learning. Online teachers for these classes will develop their own district-specific curriculum.
For grades 6 to 12, teachers will partner to get started with e-learning provider Edgenuity. Edgenuity teachers will partner with trained staff at Faribault to ensure that solid content is in place when students return to school in the fall.
The e-learning program includes synchronous or live learning activities. Collaboration on classroom work, chat messages, and chat rooms will all give students the opportunity to interact with each other. They will also have the opportunity to connect with their peers who attend school in person by having the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities and attend school events like support parties.
In her role as e-learning coordinator, Bothun envisions a partnership between herself, students, families and school district staff. This means making sure students have access to the content and offering support to anyone in the partnership.
For those interested in trying Falcons Online, Bothun recommends that students ask themselves questions such as “Did I like distance learning?” “Am I able to stick to a schedule and not be distracted by the things around me?” “Am I capable of being an independent learner and problem solving?” “Am I able to defend my own learning, contact if I have a question and wait for an answer?” “
Other students might find Falcons Online attractive because of its flexible schedule, Bothun said. But no matter what time of day a student spends online learning, Bothun asks each participating student to identify a home learning coach, be it a parent, or ‘a guardian or an older brother. This support person would not act as a classroom teacher, but would check in with the student and with the online staff.
Falcons Online will follow a schedule similar to the Faribault Public Schools schedule that has already been approved. The program is offered to both students from the Faribault neighborhood and students from outside the neighborhood. Students enrolled in Falcons Online will have access to support services such as special education and counselors, as will in-person learners, and will receive a device such as a tablet. Online students will have the option of receiving both breakfast and lunch.
With input from families and students at Falcons Online, Bothun said the district plans to identify or build a designated space for students who wish to participate in the program outside of their homes.
“I’m thrilled with this opportunity for our community because it allows us to give students more options to be successful, and if this brick and mortar framework doesn’t work, it’s another path for them to be successful,” Bothun said.
Journalist Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.