In 2013, our program was contacted by a school district in our state who expressed the desire to utilize our program in a direction that had not been explored in our state before. Although VirtualSC’s supplemental courses worked well for their students, the district wanted more flexibility, control, and to expand learning opportunities. And just like that, a match was struck, a fire lit, and the VirtualSC Franchise Program was born.
After a year of planning, Aiken County School District rolled out the Aiken County Virtual Academy (ACVA) in fall 2014; VirtualSC’s pilot franchise district. The ultimate goal of ACVA is to meet the individual learning needs of their students, and to provide flexibility in scheduling through their supplemental online learning program. Through their franchise, ACVA has access to VirtualSC’s developed course content, learning management system (LMS) and student information system all while using their own instructors. Essentially, Aiken was given a turn-key solution to create their own local virtual learning option.
This all sounds quick and easy, but it took a solid year of hands-on trial and error to get the franchise program where it needed to be. We worked closely with Aiken to implement the onboarding and professional development of their new online teachers and administration. It was surely a learning curve, especially for their faculty members who had never used our LMS, and for the administration that had never executed a project on this scale. VirtualSC continues to work closely with ACVA faculty and staff on a daily basis to ensure ongoing success. This hard work and dedication has reaped a reward; ACVA has grown exponentially in the last two years. In the pilot year, the program offered 20 courses and served 486 students with a 79% pass rate. In the 2015-2016 school year, the program offered 33 different courses, serving 1,448 students with an 82% pass rate.
As the pilot year of VirtualSC’s Franchise Program came to a close, we were approached by not one, not two, but three additional districts with big ideas to fit the unique challenges of their students. The flame grew as we began to plan to work with new models and concepts.
One of the most interesting implementations we have seen, so far, has been in Dorchester District 4. When Dorchester approached VirtualSC about the franchise program, we were unsure as to what their ultimate goals were. It did not take us long to learn that their alternative school, Odyssey Learning Center, needed a change. We met with a very apprehensive alternative school principal (and faculty), and set to work. As we prepared the faculty and staff, we cautioned that there would be growing pains. After all, these teachers were brick-and-mortar only teachers, and had never even considered teaching online or using a blended model for classroom instruction. It took time, but by the mid-point of the school year, Odyssey realized they had begun their district’s first competency-based learning program.
When a student arrives as Odyssey Learning Center, they are typically frustrated, angry and maybe even confused. Students assigned to the center often have behavioral issues that result in multiple suspensions and the risk of expulsion. However, all of a sudden, Ms. Catherine Yates, Principal of the school, noticed that students were asking to visit her campus.
Each day, students at Odyssey follow their normal schedule. For example, at 9AM, a student may report to their social studies classroom. They open their laptop, login to the LMS, and begin working on any social studies course they have assigned to them. The student sitting next to them may be working in Economics, while another student may be working in US History, or Psychology. Each student works through their assignments individually, while the teacher visits each desk to offer coaching, support and motivation. Live lessons and tutoring sessions are scheduled on an as-needed basis, and all assignment feedback is provided in the online grade book.
Through this blended learning model, they noticed that students were eager to move forward, to keep going. They had not yet experienced this level of motivation from students at Odyssey. Students now have the ability to earn as many credits as they have time for during their stay at the school. At the end of the 2015-16 school year, twelve students graduated thanks to the online competency-based system at Odyssey. Students at the main high school who are behind in their credit count are now asking for the opportunity to join the Odyssey program so they can work through the courses they need to graduate. If student testimony was not enough to describe the success of this model, all you need to do is look at the improvement of their End of Course Examination scores for Algebra 1, Biology and English 1; their success rates in these areas grew leaps and bounds.
Since the single flame was lit in 2014, the VirtualSC Franchise Program has spread like wildfire. VirtualSC will serve seven franchise school districts in the 2016-17 school year, with more waiting in line to join. Each district has requested a different model to serve a different need. And as each year goes by, VirtualSC will help these districts, and others, grow, expand, evolve and build local digital learning expertise.