Because this was my second blended school, I came to the position [principal] knowing that we needed a consistent instructional design approach, that everything had to be student-facing, and that we needed to involve the students in nearly every decision. We had the guiding question: How do you implement blended learning through the lens of positive youth development, rather than tacking on positive youth development to a blended learning model? I view Bronx Arena as a positive youth development school that uses blended and personalized learning, rather than the other way around.
When we first started, if I had told teachers that they would have an individualized objective for each student each day or week, they would have had my head. We do that now, but it would have been incredibly difficult initially. There is a learning curve when students and teachers begin at our school, so we have put in place a number of onboarding supports. We have a Bronx Arena intro course, which essentially covers how to be a student here: from the very basics of how to set up a computer to tips for self-management. For teachers, we developed a facilitation manual delineating seven concrete ways to facilitate student learning and a curriculum-design template for teams of teachers to create new courses. Building language around our very specific model of supporting students has helped us to evolve as a school community.
I came from California, where there is relatively little funding for education but the code is fairly open, and Bronx Arena is in New York, where there is more substantial funding but the education code is restrictive. We have participated in a number of pilot programs in order to innovate in such domains as seat-time, grading, and attendance. Additionally, because we are not on a semester schedule, we don’t fit into many data collection models. We keep precise data because we often have to justify our existence to the outside world, but the data that the city and state require does not always reflect the learning happening here. Overall, there have been a lot of policy challenges.
In terms of challenges within the school, we have tried to become more precise around every Credit Map, around every child. We are working to find more on-ramps and more engaging ways to keep students here when something happens outside of school. We are working to be creative in addressing factors that we cannot control. It is also difficult to on-board new teachers. When we first started, we had a cohort of teachers conducting an inquiry into personalized learning together. Now, we have one or two new teachers each year, and their inquiry process is inevitably less connected.
First and foremost, involve the kids in all of the decision-making. Whenever we involve the kids, it goes better than when we don’t. It doesn’t matter if it’s kindergarteners or twenty-year-olds. The kids have wisdom and should be trusted. Additionally, it is important to have a consistent instructional design approach. Teachers provide better lessons when they feel ownership, and therefore they need some control over the creation of lessons. Maintaining consistent instructional design provides kids with necessary structure and routine, without stifling teachers’ creativity. Above all, I would recommend that any blended program be student-centered and focused on positive youth development.
Bronx Arena High School is a collaboration between the Department of Education and SCO Family of Services. We are dedicated to serving over-age, under-credited students, inspiring them to reengage in school and empowering them with an education that will prepare them for success in college, career, and life. Using technology to create a personalized education experience, students work in a self-paced learning environment mastering the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century.
Bronx Arena High School
1440 Story Avenue
Bronx, New York
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