By Ellen Simmons
Leayah Hanson is a 17-year-old student at New London High School who cannot be found in the classrooms in the main campus building but instead attends the Digital Academy located in a self-contained classroom near the Board of Education offices.
The Digital Academy, according to information published by the school district is “a brand new hybrid learning environment offering both digital classes and a face-to-face classroom learning experience.”
The academy is open from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each school day, and students enrolled in the program (mostly high schoolers but also some seventh and eighth graders) attend at their convenience. They work on Chromebook computers supplied to them by the program, which must be returned at the end of their enrollment. They can study both at home and at the academy where a certified teacher is always on hand to give one-on-one instruction.
Leayah is not a typical high school student. She stopped attending school for three years, and when she entered the academy had only two high school credits on her record. Today, after just beginning her second year at the facility, she has earned enough credits to make her a junior/senior, and she plans to graduate in June of 2017.
Her long-term goal is to become an occupational therapist. She became interested in this field by helping to care for her foster sister who has epilepsy. She has also started a job at McDonald’s in New London and walks from the school to the restaurant to begin her shift.
Her favorite subjects are science and social studies and her most challenging is math, but she says, “I am working hard. I am not messing around.”
The director and software administrator of the academy, Marilyn Kamm, says, “Leayah has really applied herself this year and it is fun to see her grow.”
In addition to Kamm, a teacher is in the academy at all times. This semester they include Julie Cordonnier, science; Lance Kinsey, social studies; James Toukonen, business/technology; Zack McFarland, intervention specialist; Keith Landis, math; and Susan Albaugh, English. They each spend one class period and this counts as part of their normal teaching load. The students know when each teacher will be present and can adjust their own schedules to get the help they need in a particular subject.
Landis says, “A lot of kids who drop out of the traditional classroom get into an online learning option and eventually drop out because they are working alone. The academy offers a warm body to offer help, which makes learning more personal and less frustrating.”
The academy was established in the fall of 2015 and today has 15 students enrolled. Kamm says the only other school in the area that offers this is Mapleton, so several of the students come from other school districts.
Not only do the students receive the Chromebook, but they also get a free breakfast and lunch if they are in the academy during those times. Kamm says she thinks the program is successful because of the flexibility and the relaxed environment. She adds, “The teachers are great with the kids, and the kids are comfortable with the program itself. I also think it helps build their self-esteem.”
High School Principal Cosetta Adkins was one of the educators involved in establishing the academy and she agrees with Kamm. She says, “The academy provides an opportunity for success to those students who struggle with the traditional educational structure.”
The teachers and Kamm keep close tabs on the students’ progress and communicate with them in person or on line. The students usually receive instantaneous feedback on their progress so they know exactly where they stand academically. When they complete their credits, they receive a New London High School diploma.