A new concept has been adopted in Prince George’s County to address the needs of students who need to learn in an alternative environment. The county has now partnered with Connections Academy to bring a hybrid online learning curriculum to Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).

“Virtual education affords us the opportunity to craft distinctive learning experiences and environments for students who are better suited to non-traditional learning,” said Bonita Coleman-Potter, deputy superintendent of PGCPS, in a statement. “We are confident that our new hybrid virtual high school will help our students achieve academic and social success and are very pleased to be working with such a highly regarded organization as Connections Academy.”

According to a report by the Alliance for Excellent Education, Native Americans are the only racial group to have a lower graduation rate statewide than African Americans. In Prince George’s County, a school district overwhelmingly Black, those numbers were too alarming.

Michelle Revenaugh, senior vice president for state relations for Connections Academy, said it was that need to address the graduation rate that drew the PGCPS to her organization. “PGCPS has a pretty robust portfolio of different school options for students who are either heading towards dropping out or are not performing well in a traditional setting,” said Revenaugh. “They looked around the country and around the state at some other school districts their size and with their demographics and took an interest in a blended, online approach.”

PGCPS issued a request for proposal in January and Connections Academy, based in Baltimore, won the bid to provide the school district with a classroom experience that is virtual-based, but maintains face-to-face teacher interaction.

Now, the school district, along with Connections, has set up a program called ACCESS Online at Annapolis Road Academy in Bladensburg. At the school, students will still get instruction in courses like English, algebra, history, biology, various technologies and world languages.

Revenaugh says the reason Connections works is because it personalizes the classroom experience for students. Curriculum at Connections Academy is tailored to meet the comfort level of each individual student. “One of the beauties of virtual education is one size does not fit all,” she said. “Your pace through a class and the work you do with your online teacher can really be personalized to you. You don’t have to be doing the same thing as the person sitting next to you.”

Revenaugh went on to say that this breaks down emotional and psychological barriers that many students may have when they’re not achieving at the same level of some of their classmates.

The partnership is still in its infant stage so there has been very little feedback, if any at all. However, stakeholders aren’t resting on their laurels and are looking for any way to keep the program moving forward. “Every student who completes a lesson has the ability to rate that lesson on a scale of 1-to-5 and provide comments about what they liked and didn’t like,” Revenaugh said. “We look at that data, test scores and school completion data along with more qualitative feedback from the partners that we work with to help us to continually improve.”

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO