The Alliance Digital Academy is approaching education from a completely different perspective, and data shows it’s working.
Principal Portia Johnson describes the Academy, which is entering its second year at the Alliance Community Center on Linden Ave., as a way to serve any student who is looking for a change from the traditional classroom.
With ACS District Administration and a partnership with professors from University of Mount Union’s education department, Johnson has spent the last year analyzing what works and what doesn’t work for a portion of the Alliance area population whose educational needs aren't being met.
“Not all of our kids are traditional kids, they need something different. We have studied their learning styles to learn how to adjust and serve them best,” she said. Dr. Jennifer Martin’s class released a YouTube video about the school, “Unleashing Silenced Voices: Implications of Restorative Justice.”
The Digital Academy is aimed to serve students who learn best individually, who have unconventional home schedules, medical issues, or even those who are at risk of leaving school after years of frustration in the traditional school setting.
For some, the Digital Academy is a last resort, but Johnson said it has proved to be an opportunity to reshape student’s view of education.
“We help students to realize the importance of education. They came here and saw that we will work with them and help guide them so they can learn. By the end of the year many of their minds were changed about education,” she said.
In the fall of 2017 the Digital Academy moved from the basement of the High School, where it was housed for the past several years, to the renovated Community Center at 405 S. Linden Ave.
Some of the students who came were identified as severely credit deficient and at risk of not graduating with an ACS diploma. Others had learning disabilities, attendance issues or behavioral challenges that left them too frustrated to learn at school.
The Digital Academy addresses these issues not only by offering an online, individualized program, but also a staff of teachers and mental health experts who can address issues the student has behaviorally, emotionally and mentally that have prevented them from reaching their fullest potential.
Through joint effort,
Teachers monitor students work by the minute. Students can learn by watching videos that explain concepts and can live chat a teacher with a question.
Acellus, a new software developed by Dr. Roger Billings, has live data analysis of student work habits and alerts teachers when a student is struggling or guessing. Teachers can then reach out to the student in real time and offer assistance, instead of waiting on students to ask for help.
Addressing the whole student
Unlike most digital schools the Digital Academy also addresses social and emotional health of all students.
Group time is offered to all students if they chose to participate. Each day a Behavioral Management Specialist and Counselor guide students through exercises that will help them to work through social and emotional issues through character education. The counseling sessions are sacred time that even Johnson does not always sit in on. Individual sessions are also available to students who require or request this time with the school counselor or a full time Commquest counselor.
The social and emotional education is also paired with regular meetings with parents. Highly specific intake meetings for each student bring together their family and former school administrators to develop an education plan that can serve that child best.
Students are also offered no-cost breakfast and lunch at the school building.
Last year the Academy had over 60 students. 75% of seniors graduated, despite difficult circumstances and nearly 80% of Digital students will return for the 2018/2019 school year. Many doubled the amount of credits they earned in the 2016/2017 school year. Most of those students have opted to return and Johnson is expecting an even larger enrollment this year from surrounding districts that don’t offer as comprehensive of services.
The Digital Academy is hosting an Open House for interested students and families August 22 through 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. To make an appointment call 330-829-2284.