Rhode Island charter school stays true to blended learning model


Some high schools incorporate blended learning strategies into their schedules, but a Rhode Island virtual charter school is using the model as the basis for its entire curriculum.

Village Green Virtual, a charter school based in downtown Providence that opened in 2013, allows its 225 students to set their own educational goals and paths through a combination of e-courseware and in-person interactions. Because it’s mostly virtual, the school is unusual in that it has to rely on online methods to ensure students’ gains in performance.

That’s where Edgenuity — a tool that provides personalized virtual instruction — comes in. Village Green Virtual uses the product to create a library of courses that can be easily customized for students, whether they are there for remediation or acceleration.

“Edgenuity allows us to pull lessons across content areas,” said John D. Butler, co-founder and director of academic planning and logistics for Village Green. “If I’m a chemistry teacher, and I’m having problems with some of my students solving an equation, I can pull from a math course a unit or lessons that are relevant to that particular section of chemistry.”

Butler added that the school uses Edgenuity to tailor courses to align with annual testing, especially as schools across the state ramp up efforts to prepare students for the Next Generation Science Standards, which were adopted in 2013 and are still being implemented.

“We’ve been able to build, from the ground up, science courses that will align with that assessment,” Butler said. “We also have access to real-time student data, so we know exactly where the student is in the curriculum and how much time they spend on the task.”

Rob Pilkington, co-founder and superintendent at Village Green, said in an interview that students are able to take ownership of their own education thanks to the model they have implemented.

“This is the only place you can shift time to your benefit,” he said. “When you’re a student at this school, you are extremely empowered because you are in control of your dashboard, and a student here must be very introspective about who they are as a learner.”

Pilkington added that “this is not a school designed around adult needs or adult wants, it’s designed around increasing the students’ academic performance.”

In order to make it a truly blended school, students spend about 60 percent of their time at partitioned workstations in the school building, which is equipped with monitors, keyboards, headphones and computer mice, all of which plug into a thin client, or a virtual desktop. Through VMware, the software provider, students have access to a whole suite of tools on their own desktops.

“Their desktops reside in a server, so you can log into your virtual desktop in the server from these thin client, cloud-based, non-CPU devices,” Pilkington said.

The other 40 percent are devoted to “workshops,” small classrooms with whiteboards and real teachers. The school provides Chromebooks during these classes.

The benefit of this kind of technology, both school leaders said, is that the institution itself doesn’t have to hire an IT person. Instead, there’s a managed services contract with an outside provider.

“It’s an extremely reliable system,” said Butler. “I can’t think of another school that has this sophistication of tech infrastructure.”

Butler has captured all this insight and experience at Village Green in a new book, “A Personalized Learning Framework for Non-Thematic Pathways: The VGV High School Model.” The book serves as a blueprint for other school leaders looking to create or incorporate blended learning into their programs.

“We are excited in sharing our research in developing a framework of 16 flexible competency- and equity-based personalized blended learning pathways — all leading to college- and career-readiness,” Butler said.

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com and follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.