When she isn’t playing outside or hanging out with friends this summer, Madeline Schulte is glued to her computer. Cartoon characters dash and words and numbers flash across the screen, but she’s not watching video clips or playing video games.
“I set my timer for 45 minutes,” says Schulte. “Forty-five minutes of math and 45 minutes of reading.”
Schulte is one of 65 incoming seventh graders at Jackson Middle School to participate in “Summer Virtual Learning,” a new, free program offered by the Anoka-Hennepin School District. It’s a six-week summer school program students can do at home using an online program called Compass Learning Odyssey. Students must spend about 45 minutes per subject each day. They can choose to work on math, language arts or both, depending on their needs.
This isn’t your traditional summer school and these aren’t your traditional summer school students. The district used students’ Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, test scores to determine who would benefit from the program.
“[The students] were identified as a student who had lost some sort of academic knowledge over the summer,” says virtual summer school teacher Mandy Freese. “So from fifth grade to sixth grade they dropped a score in some way shape or form.”
Not every student is necessarily one who struggles throughout the school year. Freese says even average or advanced students are participating.
Freese monitors the students’ progress and offers more work if a child runs out. She is available to give progress reports to parents by email or phone or to meet for conferences. She does not give out grades, nor does she determine what assignments should be completed or when. Each child sets his own pace.
“It’s just a chance for them to learn something new,” says Freese. “[It is] a chance to refresh what they already have learned and it hopefully with get them prepared for the fall.”
For Schulte, the online activities are as good as video games. In addition to practice tests and assignments, Compass Learning Odyssey uses interactive games and fun quizzes to teach the students.
“At first I thought it was going to be like homework,” says Schulte, “but then I realized it’s kinda like watching TV.”
Schulte’s Mom, Amy Moriarty, says Schulte has always needed extra help with reading and math and has been taking summer classes since the second grade. She says Summer Virtual Learning is a departure from traditional summer school, where, she says, teachers might not be able to spend time with and cater lessons to struggling students.
“She’s so into it and it’s so much fun that she’s paying attention,” says Moriarty. “She’s learning things that she had maybe brushed on or touched on during the school year but didn’t quite get the concept; the program’s really hitting that home for her.”
This year, Summer Virtual Learning was only offered to seventh graders. The district will test students in the fall to see how well the program worked. Depending on those results, it could expand next year.
Freese, Schulte, Moriarty and several others involved with this pilot program say they hope it does.
"It's fun and she thinks it’s fun," Moriarty says with a smile. "That’s fantastic!"
July 24, 2012