The stakes are high as secondary school students close in on graduation. Their future educational and work options depend on completing all of their requirements, so the pressure is on. For some students, that pressure, combined with other factors, can make graduation simply out of reach.
And so, “Build a Credit” was born. It’s a flexible online learning approach and credit-earning option for students pioneered at Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School (SJAM) in Waterloo. It addresses the shared determination of both the school and the board to get more students past that graduation goal post.
Students who have lost their momentum and are struggling to attain needed credits are now being directed to a promising “alternative path to graduation” says SJAM Principal, Jennifer Shortreed. Technological tools, high engagement content, and a new online learning approach is revolutionizing how a few students have moved to within striking distance of their end goal – graduation.
“Some students are uncomfortable with traditional classroom settings, or they might have mental health or home issues, or even learning disabilities, that are getting in the way of their success or putting them at risk of dropping out,” says Shortreed. “Our new ‘Build a Credit’ approach gives them a way to work independently and online with teacher support and their Chromebooks to cover content required by the provincial curriculum.”
At the outset, the students essentially build their own credit and, working with a teacher, identify online resources that will support their understanding of the core curriculum content. Once the course is set, the student commences their self-directed study, checking in often with their teacher, taking several quizzes and completing an online inquiry assignment. They can work outside the school 100 percent of the time, and link into school via phone, FaceTime, email or Google classroom. The students set their own learning goals and are encouraged to remain accountable for them, even when other distractions and good old-fashioned procrastination threaten their advancement. With hard work, a credit can be completed within a six-week period.
“Build a Credit” was exactly what Corben Ekmanis needed. His shyness and anxiety made traditional class difficult and he had fallen far behind when this new learning option became available to him. Pleased with his own progress, Corben is on track to graduate earlier than planned. He’s completed a number of modules and course credits, and spends every second period, each day, in the SJAM Student Success Room. He’s been able to pursue topics that truly interest him, while keeping within the parameters of required study guidelines. Most recently, through an interdisciplinary credit, Corben completed a multi-media project on how music affects video games, which he embellished with an array of hyperlinks, player input and music he recorded himself.
With a plethora of online and independent learning options to pick from, the Student Success teachers at SJAM, like Anne Doelman, believe they have hit upon the missing ingredients and the transformational bridge to gaining credits for their students. “The technology and the pedagogy are finally coming together in a way that had been previously imagined but not realized,” says, Doelman “We’ve learned that teacher support remains key, but we are also seeing the students just take off with their studies. It is sometimes hard to keep up with them!”
In the 2018-19 school year, the “Build a Credit” initiative was rolled out board-wide to all 16 secondary schools, increasing enrollment considerably, as well as the resources available to both staff and students involved. As their experience with the program has progressed, Shortreed explains unexpected benefits have emerged. This includes the ability to address a student’s needs beyond academics. The close working relationship that develops between the student and Student Success Teachers allows students to feel comfortable asking for help addressing their mental health concerns, which are often a significant reason for falling behind initially.
Every credit earned is a win, but sometimes success is not measured in credits. And the students and teachers associated with “Build a Credit” will tell you they know what success looks like.