Blended Learning at an Alternative Campus

Today’s Contributor: Beatriz Fernos
The 2019-2020 school year is my first year at the Alternative Learning Center. As the instructional coach, I support both the middle school and high school levels. I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico and have more than 14 years of experience as a high school math teacher.

Despite this being my 18th year in education, including being an assistant principal last year, I’ve had a big learning curve. It has been interesting to discover the differences between our disciplinary alternative program and a comprehensive campus. ALC has systems in place to keep all students safe. These structures impact instruction including our blended learning.

Students are always in the presence of an adult and are escorted to and from the bathroom. Paraprofessionals are assigned to classrooms and remain with a group of students in that room all day. Although the teachers are paired with the paraprofessionals for homeroom, they move from homeroom to homeroom to provide core instruction. We have 7 periods every day: the 4 core, lunch, PE/DELTA and SEL. Due to scheduling limitations, even though students are mostly grouped by cohort, teachers can have any level of their possible subjects. For example, the math teacher in the junior/senior homeroom can have students taking Geometry, Algebra 2, PreCal, College Math, AQR or Math Modeling just in one period. Also, students can be assigned to us for short or long terms varying from 10 to 720 days. This transient nature means students aren’t just in many different classes for any given period, they are also here for any given amount of time. Teachers need to be extremely flexible.

Another system we have in place is for receiving students every morning. We search them having them go through a metal detector and getting patted down. They have a specific dress code and are not allowed to bring any technology on campus. Students not having cell phones is almost like going back in time 10 years. The difference is this population of students has grown accustomed to having immediate access to technology and at times exhibits withdrawal from that lack of availability. Teachers have chromebook carts in their rooms though. They rely on GoGuardian to control student access. Teachers need to redirect students to use technology appropriately often perhaps because they don’t have access to their cell phones during the day. Some teachers reduce this power struggle by limiting the use of the chromebooks. Others feel doing so is an equity issue. Everyone agrees blended learning is best for students despite the difference in implementation.

Some home campus teachers request students to continue working on their BLEND courses while they are at the ALC. More teachers using BLEND would support academic transitions for students when they return to their home campuses. In order for our teachers to be able to enter grades in TEAMS for students using BLEND, they need to request view only access to the home campus teacher’s BLEND course. Students are dropped from all home campus systems when they are unenrolled there and enrolled at ALC but in BLEND they enrolled into both. There were issues at the beginning of the year with the dual enrollment. We were able to address them solved quickly since our district level support for BLEND is very responsive!

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