Village Green Virtual Charter School
Village Green Virtual Charter School opened in Providence in September of 2013. Starting with grades 9 and 10 in the first year, the school will grow to grades 9 through 12 in year three. The school is the first of its kind in Rhode Island; a high school which uses a “blended learning” model of on-line curriculum and in-classroom teaching. Students are in “workshop” working with teachers about 40% of the time and on-line or in advisory and reading groups the other 60%. Teachers at Village Green work with students when there is a skill or strategy that cannot be mastered in the on-line curriculum. The major goal of the “bricks and mortar virtual school” is that teachers are freed from designing and assessing lessons and can turn their attention to targeting the learning needs of each student. Our school’s design places students in classes when there is a skill or strategy they need to master.
Teachers specialize in data analysis and skill gap intervention and students learn at their own pace in a very technology rich environment. For this reason, no day at Village Green is routine; students will work on some subjects longer than others if they need to and teachers will work with different groups of students depending on which students need to learn the same skill at that point in their lessons.
The use of time should be a variable, not a constant, and Village Green uses time productively and creatively. Time should also not dictate the structure of student learning. If a history lesson takes two hours to complete on a given day, and a science lesson takes a half hour to complete, then why should a bell schedule allow only one hour each? 100 years ago we built schools where teachers taught for an hour and a bell would signal the end of the lesson, why should we teach that way today? Village Green understands that the students of today need a new way of doing business.
Technology has changed the way we work, think and relate to each other and the way we prioritize the rhythm our lives.
Village Green believes that to best serve today’s students we need to harness the power of e-courseware and improve the access to technology and to allow students to learn in a safe environment which will prepare them for both post-secondary school and the work environment of the future.
Teaching and Learning
The greatest myth of “virtual schools” is that they de-value the teacher’s impact on student achievement and academic progress. Nothing could be further from the truth and a major part of the Village Green mission is to enhance and improve the professional and certified teacher’s work life. Village Green’s use of an on-line curriculum allows the teacher the freedom from designing and self-producing lesson materials (and worrying if they hit the right standards while still working for all kids) and correcting assessments at home. Instead, the e-learning and blended model shifts that work to the analysis of student achievement data and the subsequent planning for intervention and remediation on a student by student basis.
Teachers work in the Learning Centers where students are at their workstations as well as in the classes where the instruction is more traditional. Students at Village Green are surrounded by teachers of all subject areas. If one-on-one help is needed in a Learning Center a teacher is there. In workshops, where the teacher has the luxury of instructing to a group of 8 to 10 students at a time who have the same skill gap and are motivated to learn a certain skill because it’s halting their progress, teachers are able to employ true differentiation and progress monitoring. In the school’s developing Design Spaces, certified teachers will work with students on team projects, presentations, and research and presentation development.
The myth of virtual schools is that somehow hundreds of students just show up to school if they want to, can chose to stay home and log on for credit if that’s what they want, are only taught by a computer, don’t meet with teachers, hardly speak with peers and lose a sense of community and self. Really, does any of that make sense given our collective understanding of teen development and the universal need, student and teacher alike, for human interaction? The exact opposite is what we have observed at Village Green.
In reality, the opposite about virtual schools is the truth. Teachers are critical to student success, technology is used in ways to engage today’s minds, vibrant communities of learners are created because students are happy; they’re challenged, respected and see their own progress and skills grow … all while working with technology, which they love to do.
Our model is one where students rotate from activity to activity, whether it’s on-line learning, a skill gap intervention class, a seminar, direct instruction or working in group projects, Village Green students are with other students, working under the guidance of a certified teacher of record and learning in an individualized way which suits their learning style and needs.
The Physical Design of the School
There are three main instructional spaces within the school. First, there are four large Learning Centers where each student has their own workspace and workstation. Students are seated in pods of six or eight and there are on average 50 workstations in each Learning Center. The furniture is modern, real fabric lines the workstations for decorations and notes, an ergonomic chair and several electric outlets are at each workstation. Due to the virtual desktop system students can be re-arranged without having to move computers. Teachers physically walk within the Learning Center giving one-on-one advice to whoever needs it.
Second, there are small classrooms (we call “workshops”) for classroom instruction of up to ten students at the maximum. The workshop rooms are very hi-tech as the assistance the teacher is giving the students is done within the on-line curriculum only for all to see. That way, when the skill gap has been addressed students can go back to their e-learning and make progress where they were formerly stuck.
Lastly, there is a “Design Space” (planned to expand in 2016/2017) which will serve as an informal learning space (think of how adults work at Panera Bread or Starbucks) for help with unique tasks such as group or team work on projects, research, presentations and product creation.
The on-line learning experience
The school’s curriculum is from a company called Edgenuity. The grade span of the curriculum is six through twelve and their model is based on:
- Establishing student proficiency through diagnostic testing
- Creating a sequence of learning for each student based on their starting point
- Offering proficiency based movement from one module to the next
- Creating on-line lessons which have a video instruction portion, engaging graphics and exercises, multiple times to practice new skills, frequent tests and quizzes and daily data on progress and are universally designed for access as well as interactive and translated into twelve different languages.
- Teachers and parents can monitor progress through the web based system by seeing data on amount of time spent working, standards not being met, where skill gaps are forming, as well as where progress is consistent and steady.
- Our curriculum conforms to all RI Department of Education regulations for graduation including portfolio and Capstone.
- Edgenuity Homepage
- Core Curriculum
- Course Catalog
- Student Experience
- Educator Experience
- News and Reviews
Schools Similar to Village Green
The most successful virtual school in the nation is Carpe Diem Learning Systems in Yuma, AZ, Texas and the Mid-West ( www.carpediemschools.com). This school also uses the curriculum by Edgenuity. They have received much notoriety from their student performance as well as having the good fortune of being chosen for an NBC Education Nation Showcase in the fall of 2012.
Village Green is not a replication of the Carpe Diem school. Our students won’t be in one large room, our per pupil expense will be much higher, and our number of certified teachers per student will be much higher as well. However, there is a lot of DNA that we do share. A passion for finding the best way to enrich the learning environment with technology, the use of the Edgenuity curriculum and the belief that adults need to reshape the school environment so as to best engage today’s young minds.
NBC Education Nation Case Study on Carpe Diem Virtual Charter School
You must scroll down to the third frame and start the NBC video report
A video showcasing their program at Carpe Diem – youtube link 8:48 long
The International Association for On-line Learning (iNACOL) is the “go to” organization for the research and dissemination of information about on-line and blended learning. Their website is a rich source for articles and news briefs about e-learning research, professional development, advocacy and networking. Their mission is to help ensure that all students have access to quality on-line learning and world class educational opportunities. Their website address is www.inacol.org
For an article of “fast facts” about on-line learning, please see iNACOL’s report at:
The Innosight Institute published a very comprehensive report which classified and discussed the many different methods to create a “virtual or blended learning” school. The report highlights Carpe Diem in Yuma, AZ on page 12. However, please note that the diagram of the Carpe Diem school’s staffing includes “paraprofessionals” and Village Green will only hire certified teachers as per the state’s Virtual School regulations. The report, Classifying K-12 Blended Learning (Staker& Horn, 2012) can be found here.