Bridging the gap, expanding choice

Florida. The Florida School District's new Distance Learning program expands student choice, bridges school communities.

24 Sep 2019 | 02:52

This fall, a handful of high school students at S.S. Seward Institute are seizing on new course opportunities through the school’s new Distance Learning (DL) program and classroom.

Made possible through a partnership with the Northeastern Regional Information Center (NERIC), a division of Capital Region BOCES, distance learning allows students to interact in real-time with teachers and fellow students far beyond their own school walls.

“This is an exciting instructional innovation for our students and our district,” said Superintendent of Schools Jan Jehring. “Distance learning breaks through physical boundaries and opens new horizons of student choice and opportunity.”

A dedicated distance-learning classroom was installed over the summer on the second floor of S.S. Seward. The space is equipped with two large screens to stream remote but real-time instruction and uses Google Classroom tools to facilitate document sharing and collaboration. A Florida teaching aide accompanies the students to moderate learning activities and interactions in the room.

How it works

Distance Learning engages an interactive video system through which educators teach courses simultaneously to students in several different school buildings. Through the service, districts become part of a regional DL community of schools and BOCES collaborating to share programs through distance learning technologies.

In the 2019-20 school year, Florida schools join more than 60 districts and 2,500 students participating in DL from within the NERIC footprint and beyond. Regionally, the program offers upward of 340 courses throughout the year, with approximately 145 classes running daily. Presently, in Orange County, Distance Learning programs are offered only in the Florida and Goshen school districts.

Why it matters

“Just like today’s workplaces, today’s classrooms and our students’ learning experiences are being transformed by evolving technologies,” said S. S. Seward Principal Michael Rehaume. “To prepare our students for a fast-changing world, we need to offer learning environments that advance their digital literacy and encourage critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and collaboration.”

Inside the Distance Learning Classroom

Junior Grace and senior Sophia are two of the students pioneering Distance Learning at S.S. Seward.

Every other day, their schedule begins in the DL classroom with a double-period in college psychology. With the help of teacher aide Lisa Renee Fogarty, they video-in to the course instructor’s classroom at the Cairo-Durham High School in upstate Cairo.

“It’s a different format and it’s a fast-moving class so we’re all learning and adjusting, the students and the aides.” Fogarty said.

She is one of three teacher-aides facilitating the program at Seward.

Born into the generation of all things virtual, Sophia and Grace were surprised with their own first reaction to the “distance” part of their new learning environment.

“I miss the one-on-one with just the teacher,” Sophia said. She also acknowledged feeling challenged by the course’s project-based learning and the college-grade workload.

“It’s a hard class,” Grace added. “You can email the teacher but you’re not talking to him so you have to be more independent.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, Seward students were joined by a class at Averill Park High School, a town on the outskirts of Troy.

To help students interact and prepare to work collaboratively across participating schools, they have been introducing themselves using their mobile phones. They share favorite hobbies, important life-changing events, and other ice-breaking chat.

“It’s a little awkward at times," Sophie said, "but it definitely gets me out of my comfort zone."

The DL challenges identified by the students are part and parcel of the skill-set the program is designed to encourage and the students’ preparation for today’s college and career demands.

Florida's DL now and in the future

In addition to college-level psychology, DL at Seward is also offering college-level sociology and the elective, history through film.

In the future, Florida School District looks to expand and diversify its DL offerings and host its own.