One of the great benefits of online learning is how customizable it is, down to the individual student level. Because of this, nearly any student or educator need can be met with a bit of creativity and planning. Seneca Valley School District in Pennsylvania has been customizing their online learning offerings for over 10 years, so we talked to Denise Manganello of Seneca Valley Academy of Choice to learn how she and her colleagues have been able to make online learning customization work well for their diverse student body.
[Where Learning Clicks] Can you describe your role in Seneca Valley?
[Denise] I am the principal of Seneca Valley School District’s Academy of Choice. It’s our cyber and arts program, and serves K–12 students. I have been with SVSD for 13 years, and we’ve been running the Academy of Choice for 11 years, with the first year operating as a pilot program.
[WLC] What can you tell us about the students the Academy of Choice serves?
[Denise] There are 7,000 students throughout the district, and over 3,000 of them use Edgenuity for acceleration, credit recovery, and intervention. We also have about 800 students who take online courses through the Academy of Choice each semester.
We also have two therapeutic classrooms, which serve about 30 students who require mental health support. We offer in-school therapy for those students, and work with their individual therapists to customize their courses. For example, students who have OCD might spend a lot of time taking notes on subject matter they already know, so the pretesting option and other customization tools in Edgenuity can be very helpful with those students.
Our district is 1:1 for kindergarten through 8th grade, and next year, our goal is to be 1:1 for all students. We also offer students flexible instructional days (or FIDs) to allow them to stay home on a school day and still complete their work. Teachers create mini lessons in math, ELA, social studies, and science for FIDs that take 30–45 minutes, so students can still complete their work on snow days. At first, people weren’t thrilled about FIDs, so we’ve kept two snow days so kids still get to ride their sleds. And because of the FIDs, they now get an Easter break, too!
We also use virtual instruction for students who will be out of school because of suspensions or expulsions. They complete their coursework online while they’re away from campus, and then can go right back into the traditional setting, so they’re getting more education than they used to get.
[WLC] It sounds like you’ve been able to use online instruction in a multitude of ways to your students’ great benefit! Certainly, though, you still face some challenges with it, so what would you say is the biggest challenge you face right now?
[Denise] Keeping up with demand! Now that we’ve opened up so much flexibility and opportunity, everybody wants more, so we’re trying to find that happy medium without overwhelming people with too many options. We’re doing a good job of that on a daily basis, and we have many structures and procedures in place to make sure we’re looking at individual student needs. Once you start letting kids accelerate in 3rd grade, they can accelerate a lot and be years ahead. We monitor that closely because we don’t want to misplace students. Right now, I have an 8th grader taking AP® Calculus AB, so we need to make sure letting them accelerate that much is the best option for their learning.
[WLC] Wow, that’s incredible! Do you find yourself running out of material to challenge those students?
[Denise] We haven’t yet. Luckily, we’re a huge school district, so we have a lot of options for classes, including, for that particular student, AP Calculus AB and BC, AP Statistics, and Computer Science. Students have also taken courses from Johns Hopkins, and we partner with our local community college to offer students even more courses, and allow them to earn college credit at the same time.
Our first student who accelerated like that went to Harvard to study math. At first, it was a little scary letting him fly like that, but we tracked him all the way through and he succeeded!
We’ve also customized the courses to create multiple levels, so students have a lot of opportunities to challenge themselves.
[WLC] Can you tell us more about how you’ve used online learning customization to your students’ benefit?
[Denise] We love having the ability to customize! We break all of our classes into 9-week periods, so we’ve been able to mirror that in our online courses. We wanted a seamless transition for students coming back and forth between virtual and traditional instruction.
We’ve also added in some of our own content. One thing we’ve added in is the syllabus at the beginning of the classes, so when kids join, the first thing they get is the syllabus, which helps them understand expectations. Some teachers have also added in welcome videos, so students know what their actual teachers look like.
Teachers are also adding in things like graduation projects, essays, and research pieces. And special education teachers can add in notes and other things to help the curriculum match up to students’ IEPs. Also, there’s a new requirement for health education in Pennsylvania for students to learn about suicide prevention, so we’ve added that into the health course students can take.
We want to provide our students with more learning opportunities, so we’ve also created mini courses from existing courses. We built an astronomy course from existing material in science courses. We want to give kids as many opportunities as possible for career and college readiness.
For more information on how you can offer online and blended learning to your schools and students, visit Edgenuity.com.