This blog post is the first in a series MVLRI is undertaking this year to explore the use of online learning for credit recovery here in the state of Michigan. Throughout the course of this series, we’ll be talking to administrators of online credit recovery programs about their intended purposes and key outcomes, the benefits of having online credit recovery programs available for their students, the challenges and opportunities that schools have faced in implementing an online credit recovery program, and the key lessons learned.
Each post in this series will be accompanied by a podcast recording of our conversation with the administrator at each program, providing further context and details about the program we are highlighting. Our first podcast episode is embedded at the end of this post; you can also learn more about all of our podcast episodes by visiting our podcast page.
Dallas Bell is the co-founder of Success Virtual Learning Centers (SVLC), an organization that partners with school districts to provide coursework, instruction, and other services for students who have either dropped out or are at-risk of not earning their high school diploma. Dallas has helped his organization grow by collaborating with colleagues, implementing practices that work for students who had dropped out or were at-risk, and attempting to deliver those practices to more students through the use of an online credit recovery curriculum. SVLC currently operates 14 centers across Michigan and served 1,356 students in the 2016-17 school year.
Dallas describes the look and feel of the program as that of a community college: open and collaborative workspaces, up-to-date technology, and break rooms for students. The centers are staffed with high qualified, Michigan-certified teachers, as well as on-site professionals called “relationship managers,” as their roles involve mentoring and coaching in addition to helping with course content. In general, a relationship manager’s primary responsibility is to counsel and listen to learners. SVLC’s relationship managers are provided with continual professional development opportunities, including a convening of all relationship managers statewide twice a year for reflection and learning. Sometimes finding relationship managers with deep understanding of their student population, in addition to familiarity with delivering instruction online, can present a hiring challenge.
The centers are referred to as “drop-in” centers, meaning that at any given time, the number of students actually on-site may only be 10% of the total enrolled population – those that have “dropped in” that day. There is no on-site attendance required, but nearly all students have some face-to-face interaction with SVLC staff in a given week. Dallas says that at most times of the day, there is an average of five students per teacher at SVLC locations. This low learner-to-teacher ratio allows for the relationship managers to provide more personalized attention and support when students are on-site. One challenge that Dallas identified in operating their program was the difficulty involved in scheduling required attendance time, such as for state testing or for students who have irregular schedules.
Before a student is enrolled with SVLC, a sit-down meeting takes place with administrators, the student, and the parents to get an idea about the student’s learning and career goals. This is also the opportunity to ensure that all expectations for learning at SVLC and details about the program are clearly understood. In some cases, students are counseled toward another program at another school, especially if they aren’t comfortable with learning online. SVLC delivers content and instruction to students when not on-site through an online learning management system, in addition to using a wrap-around support system that they call “The Pulse.” This system allows for constant updates on progress toward learning goals so that evidence of growth (or stagnation) is readily available for each student.
Graduation and testing data for SVLC students indicates early progress and success, which Dallas ultimately attributes to three things: his dedicated staff of teachers, center directors, special education staff, and senior leadership; the flexible and caring environment that SVLC provides for its students; and the real-time data systems that provide up-to-date information on student progress toward learning goals.