The BlendED Academy started with a group of six teachers meeting to discuss issues and barriers that we face in education today and specific to Jefferson High School. Discussions included rising class sizes, increased demands on initiatives, attendance and tardies, and student engagement. The group was instructed to ignore all barriers and work on solutions to these problems. Flexible scheduling of students, sharing the same students, and flexible class spaces became the backbone of what originally was the Jefferson Option Program.
The Option Program began with three of the six teachers; Andrew Boone in mathematics, Kevin Darrow in language arts, and Charlie Goetzinger in science. The focus in the first year became "How to get students engaged in their education?" The program used the flexible class periods and project-based learning in order to help facilitate this engagement. The missing piece was differentiated and getting students the one-on-one attention that they need. This is where the technology came in. The Jefferson Option Program received an innovative grant through the Cedar Rapids Community School District to receive 45 Surface Pro 3 Tablets to facilitate differentiation and projects in the classroom. The program has since added an additional 10 tablets through the Cedar Rapids Community Schools Foundation and 44 tablets from an extension of the original grant.
In year two, we expanded to two separate cohorts and added three additional teachers; Katie Carlson in language arts, Terry Schneekloth in mathematics, and Kristin Staude in science.
After year two, we realized that we could align more efficiently by expanding to include 10th graders as well as freshmen and brought on Eric Gjerde as a co-teacher from the special education department. At this point, we wanted to demonstrate a unified front and represent the program in a way that reflects who we are, what we do, and our vision. We re-branded as the BlendED Academy, and even had a student design our new logo with the help of 512 Creative.
Prior to the start of our fourth year, we brainstormed ways to incorporate more flexibility for our students. We have since implemented our seminar scheduling in which we have taken a traditional three-period block of time and split it into five 30-minute periods. This has allowed our students to opt into the seminars, or direct instruction experiences. We have also added work rooms within the seminar scheduling for students who don't need a lesson from a teacher during that period. The goal is to better individualize the instruction for the students who need it, while providing the flexibility for students who don't to work on the work, or projects. During year four, we have also added advisor groups, which begin by getting to know the students on a more personal level, building trust, and progressing to goal setting and college and career planning through the K-Navigator system.
We have made it a goal to become a 1:1 program with technology in order to provide our students with a truly differentiated experience. We take the Cedar Rapids Community School District's vision of "Every Learner: Future Ready" to heart and work to demonstrate the work of the District's Theory of Action in our everyday practices. Throughout our past few years, we have shown that every student can achieve success, regardless of their background.