April 12, 2013
First Blended Charter School Set to Open in Rhode Island
Rhode Island may be small, but the state is taking big strides towards expanding online learning and transforming the education system for its students. In 2012, Rhode Island laid the groundwork to open its first fully online schools through the Statewide Virtual Education Act (S2276) and the ensuing Regulations of the Board of Regents Governing Virtual Learning Education. The first statewide blended charter school has been approved to open in September 2013.
The Village Green Virtual Public Charter High School is promoting a blended learning model for 9th and 10th graders, with the intention of expanding to include grades 11 and 12 over a three-year period. One of the missions of Village Green is to use the students’ time as productively and creatively as possible. The goal is to give students a more realistic idea of managing time in a career-based setting. For instance, if it takes 1.5 hours for a student to get through an English lesson and 30 minutes for science, then that time will be used as needed instead of splitting it evenly. This allows each student to take the time he or she needs to truly understand each lesson, instead of being controlled by the clock or the pace of a full class. Village Green estimates that most students will use 40% of their time working with the teachers, and the other 60% will be online or in small groups.
A key question that has begun to recently emerge is, “What is the best school design for a blended learning format?” Many programs give their students access to a computer or have BYOD policies, but continue with a traditional classroom and school layout. Village Green sees an opportunity to embrace the blended learning model throughout the school, down to the building design. The school has purchased and is renovating a historical building in Providence. The layout consists of 136 workstations, creating a 1:1 ratio of computers for the 136 students they expect to attend in SY 2013-14. There are two large Learning Centers made up of pods of 6-8 stations with about 65 stations in each center. There are also several conference-style classrooms with space for 10 students that are available for more traditional teaching methods. Finally, there is a Design Space available for students, ideal for unique tasks, group work, and projects. With this unique building design Village Green is transforming the teaching style, and the entire educational experience for the students.
Rhode Island is not the only state taking steps towards expanding online and blended learning options. As of the publication of Keeping Pace 2012 in October, 31 states allowed virtual charter schools. Since then, North Carolina has also approved its first virtual charter schools, and legislation has laid the groundwork for expanding virtual school options in Massachusetts (although as of April 2013 there are no new online options available for Massachusetts students for 2012-13).
Today’s post was written by one of our Keeping Pace researchers, Lauren Vashaw.