Even before COVID made e-learning a common practice among schools state and nation-wide, the practice of offering online coursework was quickly gaining popularity as an alternative to traditional classrooms.
Understanding this growing trend, as well as attempting to keep area kids enrolled in the school district in one form or another (considering state funding is directly tied to enrollment numbers), Cambridge-Isanti Schools had been in the process of implementing their own online program, which took about two years to complete.
That program earned Minnesota Department of Education approval at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year — right in the middle of a time of nearly constant transitioning to and from in-person and “e-learning” for all students. This mixture admittedly caused some initial confusion among students and parents, however it also had the side-effect of helping more fully formulate the program’s format to one that allows for flexibility for all students.
According to Curriculum Coordinator Michelle Glasgow, the K-8 curriculum implements a combination of online videos, physical workbooks, plus Google Meets for one-on-one interaction between students and a teacher, as well as relationship-building among a group of students.
“Our K-8 use the Edgenuity curriculum,” Glasgow explained. “But what makes our programs special compared to other districts is that we have teachers that are actually working with the students each day.”
Beyond those direct meetings, however, the online classes offers the flexibility to learn in a less structured form, with students and parents being able to choose when they do the coursework.
“What the students and parents really like about this program is they have the flexibility to make their schedule they want to do throughout the day,” Glasgow said. “If they’re morning people, they can get it done earlier in the day. If they like to sleep in, they can do it later in the day. They can do work on Saturdays and Sundays to make up for work they didn’t do throughout the week. And parents like it too because they can help them at different times.”
High School program
For grades nine through twelve, the flexibility is in being able to bounce back-and-forth between online and in-person learning.
“We know that enrollment’s fluid,” said Dean of Students Jeremy Miller. “Kids go back and forth depending on life’s circumstances. And we the kid whose taking biology online if they have to come back in person, we can slide them into a bio class in person, and they can jump right in.”
In order to do that, Miller said the district’s teachers were asked to create the curriculum for the 37 courses that are currently offered.
“We didn’t purchase any courses, our teachers built them based on courses they would teach in person, and of course they had to make changes so that it would apply online. And 100% of our courses are taught by our teachers. So if students are moving back and forth, they’re seeing the same people.”
Miller said it was also important to stay consistent between courses, so every course’s home page looks the same.
“If you had five different classes that look different, kids can get confused,” Miller said.
large participation/overcoming obstacles
According to Director of Teaching and Learning Brenda Damiani, there is currently about 200 students enrolled in the online classes, with it almost evenly split between K-8 and 9-12. She said anyone can enroll in online classes, whether they are within or outside district borders.
She said that a majority of the students have adequate internet access to go through the classes. If someone is suffering from slow internet speeds, they can simply turn off their camera, which typically eats up bandwidths. For families who might not be able to financially pay for high-speed internet, the district will work with them to find grants to help pay for it.