(C. Proxmire, The Ferndale 115 News, Sept. 4, 2012)
Alternative Education has changed in Ferndale, with students no longer attending Taft Alternative Education. Instead 427Allen is home of the Digital Learning Center, an internet-based high school where students will do most of their learning online with the option of dropping in to the DLC for in-person help when they need it. Renée Heard, who is the School Improvement Coordinator and Director of the Digital Learning Center, explained the program at the DLC’s recent Open House on Aug. 30.
“It’s a combination of a blended learning model, so students take their courses and their academic work all online but they come on site for support,” Heard said. “They can ask questions. It’s kind of like thinking about the professor with office hours. Coming in to meet with their academic case manager to ask questions, to get extra help. They can come to just quietly work on things, they can work in small groups. They also will do things online and interact with their academic case managers and each other in a virtual setting, so discussion boards, Skyping with each other, basically doing online simulations and games and web quests and all that kind of stuff.
“I think one of the other really important things to know is the role of the academic case manager… It’s a combination coach, mentor, facilitator who is also a certified content teacher. So each case manager has a caseload of students that they coach, provide guidance to, mentor, work with on their life plans, their interests, their career interests, college plans, all that kind of stuff. And then they also provide content help while they’re working with their students on site.”
Heard said that students are not required to come to the DLC in person, but that they are encouraging most students to come two and a half days per week. “The whole goal of this program is to design a high school experience that is individualized for each and every student. So no matter what that particular kid needs we can give that to them.”
She added that having an academic case manager can provide stability for some students. “Instead of having six different people that you interact with in a day, you really have that one key adult, one mentor that can push, pull, guide you through everything.
Childcare is available onsite and students can go at a pace that is right for them. Over 400 students have signed up so far, and each academic case manager has approximately 50 students assigned to them.
Because this is a program of Ferndale Public Schools, students do not have to pay any tuition or any fees of any kind. The equipment is paid for with state funds that the district receives per pupil. Students are given a laptop and a wireless card to use while they are enrolled, and the laptops have a system similar to “Lo-Jack” to help track missing or stolen equipment. “Students will be held to the same standard as with school issued textbooks,” Heard said. The DLC campus is secure. “Within the school there are security officers and a police liaison. However, it is much more about creating a school culture that includes high expectations and treats young people as self-directed learners while providing the support and modeling needed to be successful,” Heard said.
DLC students receive a Ferndale Schools Diploma, and they are required to meet the educational requirements of other high school students. Heard said “students have to take the 9th grade Social Studies MEAP and the MME Exam when in 11th grade. They adhere to the same requirements, including the Michigan Merit Curriculum Graduation Requirements.”
She said that the program is built off of a variety of program elements seen in National models and other schools in districts like New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, etc. “It is also based on a national movement towards blended learning – spearheaded by the Gates Foundation,” Heard said.
Digital Learning High Schools are new to Michigan, and while some are concerned about the change, the advisors, parents and students seem excited.
Social Studies case manager Nick Zajas has been teaching with Ferndale Schools for seven years, some of that time teaching night school with Adult Ed. “I’m very excited. We’re going to be able to reach more students. Each student learns differently and I think this is going to provide much more services for our students.”
The DLC is available to students in the Ferndale School District or those from neighboring communities. To find out more about the DLC, visit the Ferndale Schools Website at http://www.ferndaleschools.org/schools/dlc/about_dlc.html.