Byron's Babbles

Educating Outside The Walls

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Educational Leadership, Leadership, science education by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on April 17, 2015

  I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week at the Indiana State House with a group of our teachers. Our mission was to demonstrate to our state legislators how virtual education really works. We set up in the House Committee rooms and had our teachers facilitate learning for our students from there. Many legislators came down and spent time with our teachers and we really appreciated the opportunity to share. At stake, right now, is a bill (HB 1001) that came out of the house calling for 100% funding for all schools. When the bill went to the Senate the amount was reduced back to the present level of funding of 90% for us, as a virtual charter school. I absolutely believe that our school, Hoosier Academies, should be funded at 100%. I believe all schools serving Indiana’s students should be funded equally at the 100% level.

Hoosier Academies Teachers Teaching In Room 156A Of The State House

  Representative Dave Ober, from Albion, said it best this week in a tweet: “The education philosophy in Indiana is that money follows the child. We need to make that commitment clear.” I have blogged about leading with certainty and clarity before (click here to read), and I consider this leading with both certainty and clarity. I had the opportunity to visit with Representative Ober this week and he certainly understands what is at stake. He is displaying his commitment to ALL Indiana students. In my personal growth time this morning I was reading David McCullough’s Truman. McCullough stated that former President Harry S. Truman hated the words “progressive,” “liberal,” and “reform.” Truman wanted everything to be “Forward Moving.” To have our schools and education to be “forward moving” there needs to be 100% funding for all schools, regardless of type.   

One of the issues about funding right now relates to virtual schools. Let’s dive into the virtual thing. Really, virtual education is very “forward moving,” as Truman would have said. I hope we can all agree that all students can learn and that all students learn differently. If that is the case, then why would we think that all students learn best in a building with walls and a roof? We need to think “outside the walls.” Having just spent time with my Smithsonian Institution friends in Washington D.C. this past week, I can tell you they embrace the fact that not all students will be visiting, or even have the means to be able to visit within the walls of their museums. In fact, the Smithsonian Institution wants you to take advantage of visiting virtually. Truly, the Smithsonian Institution is equal access to everyone. EVERYONE!

I’ll give you an example: The Wright Flyer, on display in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, was scanned using a 3D laser, which produces a highly detailed and accurate image of the object. The 3D Wright Flyer exhibit is part of the Smithsonian Institution X 3D Collection, which provides a very detailed look at objects. The 3D Explorer allows visitors to rotate the objects on the screen and includes guided tours. The X 3D Collection provides access to many of the Smithsonian Institution’s 137 million objects of which only one percent is on display at any one time in the 19 museums, nine research centers, and the Smithsonian National Zoo. This is very “forward moving” and is in line with the Smithsonian Institution’s core mission – “The increase and diffusion of knowledge.”  The Smithsonian Institution is certainly thinking “outside the walls” to provide extensive public outreach and educational programs. 

Image Of The Wright Flyer From The X 3D Collection

Just like the Smithsonian Institution, we in the virtual education world, are serving as pioneers and trailblazers in online and blended education. We continue to learn how best to navigate innovative ways to deliver content and facilitate engaging lessons for students. Our “forward moving” and “outside the walls” approach includes a data-driven academic plan, increased professional development for our teachers, individualized learning plans for all students, strengthened family and stakeholder engagement, and a targeted credit recovery program. 

A key to the success of any organization is understanding what makes it distinct. At Hoosier Academies we are distinct because we are carrying out, as called for in the state constitution,  education equally open to all and by all suitable means.  We know in our case what makes us unique is the fact that students served by Hoosier Academies are able to be fully online (statewide in all 92 counties) or have the option to go to our hybrid schools (face to face two days a week and online the other three) in Indianapolis. What also makes us distinct is that we have a 67% mobility rate. We must embrace the fact that in many cases we are a short term solution to many of our students. This mobility may be because of health issues, bullying, differentiated learning needs, or students who have special circumstances such as being an Olympic gymnast. For many students we are the only available choice in a state that embraces school choice. I believe we are beginning to make progress because we have begun to answer the question of what what makes us different and really owning it. This realization has only come about because of really asking and listening to the students and parents of the students we serve about what they believe we should be trying to accomplish for them.  We have a long way to go, but are making progress.

This discovery has come about from stories, for example, of the family whose daughter has been with us through 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, because of being bullied at her local school, but, is going to try going back to her local high school next year. Another family, who I visited with recently in Gary, has their children enrolled in Hoosier Academies because they are scared to have the students walk to school. We also have students with medical conditions that do not allow them to be enrolled in a traditional setting and who are flourishing in our modality. Another story comes from our starting a National Honor Society this year and how the parents of a student with Down’s Syndrome who was inducted stated that there was no way their daughter could have ever been as successful, academically or socially, in a traditional setting. These stories are anecdotal and qualitative proof that Hoosier Academies is an interim solution for many families. We are a place for students to go for whatever length of time the parent believes is necessary. Furthermore, more than one-half of parents of high school students and one-third of elementary students will choose this option to catch their child up academically. 

The internet has changed the way people accomplish so many things, including the education of their children. Thanks to technological advances, students aren’t limited to learning in a traditional classroom environment. Many parents are choosing virtual schooling as a viable educational choice that provides a range of benefits. Virtual schooling provides the same opportunities for children and teens, allowing them to use technology to learn and grow in the familiarity and comfort of their home environments. Online school programs may also provide students with more of the personal attention they need. Teachers are often better able to focus on each student’s unique needs and provide a more customized approach to learning. In a perfect world, no child would ever face bullying or other social struggles in school. In reality, however, many children deal regularly with bullies and troubling social interactions that make learning nearly impossible. Many students we serve also face classroom-learning challenges because of their own behavioral or emotional needs. Online learning modalities allow students to learn in a safe and secure environment that is free from the social and behavioral concerns typical of traditional classrooms.

Again, if we truly believe all students learn differently we need to embrace the fact that students will need individualized learning environments as well. Let us be “forward moving” in our continued improvement of all learning environments for tomorrow! 

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