A handful of seniors at Dos Pueblos High School have started taking online classes to make up failed courses — the first students to try Aventa, the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s new credit recovery program.
Assistant Principal Nea Voss said Dos Pueblos is focusing on seniors who have recently failed classes and are in danger of not graduating in June. They’re doing credit recovery in the library’s computer lab after school, while taking a full load of regular classes.
Each student is paired with a credentialed teacher from Aventa with whom they can email, video chat and ask questions during office hours. A semester class takes just six weeks, and students can test out of the sections they already know.
“We assume they retained some knowledge in 18 weeks of class,” Voss said.
For $40,000 per year, the district gets 200 reusable licenses that can be used for any subject.
The district is targeting freshmen who have struggled to adjust to high school classes and seniors who are far behind but want to catch up to graduate on time.
“You can imagine as a 14-year-old, you’ve been in high school half a year and aren’t going to graduate with your peer group — it’s self-defeating and motivating for disengagement,” district Superintendent Dave Cash said.
Dos Pueblos’ seven seniors are taking biology, government and English classes. Voss said more and more programs are being cut, so online credit recovery offers students the chance to learn around their work and family schedules if they’re motivated enough to make up for failed classes.
“We have students who just don’t fit that mold of school rules,” Voss said. “The brick-and-mortar classroom is a struggle for them.”
Summer school and SBCC Continuing Education offerings are limited, so online programs through the schools are a way to provide the credit recovery programs in an economical way.
“The idea is fantastic because it really gives kids a positive feeling that they’ll be able to earn enough credits to graduate, and it’s not easy,” Cash said. “I actually did one week of coursework in an American Government class in Clovis to kind of see what the rigor’s like, and it’s worthy of the credit.”
Cynthia White, the district’s director of curriculum, said adding online-only classes to summer school is a cost-effective way to offer credit recovery and electives, especially since it’s difficult to staff summer school and the district often has to bring in outsiders. Aventa and classroom courses will be offered this summer, and eventually, Cash said, credit recovery could move entirely online.
High school students can earn only 10 credits in a traditional summer school schedule, so while it’s a great opportunity, Cash said it’s not enough for some students.
“If revenue continues to decline, and there are all the indications that it will, for K-12 education, we’ll have to seek solutions like this,” he said. “We can’t just throw our hands up in the air and say, ‘We don’t have the money. Good luck, kids.’”
White said the district had software programs for this before, but they were “very flat” and had students read and test online with no interaction or support from real teachers.
Aventa knows common error patterns and can give students hints and tips as they work through the lessons.
While this particular software was chosen partly because of its bilingual translations, English learners are not more in need of credit recovery than other students, according to Cash. He said the ability to translate the lessons is important for Spanish-speaking students and parents.
Teachers and support staff were trained on the program to ensure it is implemented consistently at each school, and oversight comes as district staff receive student progress reports and oversee the computer labs where they do some work.
Education is changing so quickly that districts are starting to address the hybrid model for classes, not just credit recovery, according to White.
“There’s the concern that you won’t need a teacher, but there’s no way you can replace that,” Voss said. “You can change the way you teach, and what learning strategies are will be different.”
The Santa Barbara school district has an online-only Mandarin Chinese language class this year provided by MyLanguage360, which has 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. live teacher video conferences so students can see their teachers and vice versa. White said the online-only elective helps students take the classes they want when there aren’t enough interested people to fill an entire class.