Digital Learning Center looking at new techniques in second year
FERNDALE — The Digital Learning Center in Ferndale was a big change last school year for the Ferndale Public Schools District, but one that ultimately paid off in June.
More than 60 students graduated from the alternative education school, with more students expected to enroll this year. The school had 632 students enrolled last year, with a goal of more than 700 students this year, as school was slated to begin Sept. 3, Data and Projects Analyst Trisha McClelland said.
While the curriculum is different than typical public schools, with students spending time inside and outside the building with the use of computers, the staff was happy with the way the first year ended.
“We had a lot of points of pride from the first year, with students earning over 945 credits over the year, and 83 percent of those had grades of C or better,” McClelland said. “We also had 61 percent get a B-minus or better. We don’t punish the students if they can’t complete a course; we want them to work at their own pace and, when they finish one class, they can do another.
“It is a good way for credit recovery that some students might need.”
During the school year, students are required to spend a minimum of 530 hours in the school building, and the rest of the time they can do their schoolwork virtually on the school-provided computers. The students typically go in two times a week with everyone, including teachers, using Friday as a virtual day.
The DLC has a different count period because of being a digital school, so students need to log in 10 days in a predetermined 30-day period to be counted. If they do that this year, the students will get to keep the computer they are provided.
Students range from ages 14 to 19 in grades ninth through 12th. Administrative intern Kerri Timar said the teachers at the DLC aren’t the typical public school teachers.
“We have 13 teachers, but they are called academic case managers because they do more than just the grading papers and handing out assignments,” Timar said. “They act as a mentor and help the students in post-secondary requirements, such as careers or cover letters. They expand beyond the normal classroom topics that you see in normal public schools.”
McClelland said one of the best things to come out of the first year was the collaboration between the teachers and administrators while working on coming up with new ideas. One of the ideas, called Positive Behavior Implementation System, is set to be used this year.
PBIS has administrators enforcing positive behavior as opposed to pointing out all the negatives a student may do. A good portion of the DLC staff was trained by Oakland County Schools to implement the program this year.
“We are going to be enforcing expectations around positive behavior so students are recognized for the positive behavior and not just focusing on the bad behavior,” Timar said. “A lot of the staff in the first year were first-year teachers, but everyone was new to this type of school, so we had very open-minded meetings and we learned a lot of new things.”
During the first semester last year, several acts of crime around the DLC campus had neighbors close to the school worried about safety in the neighborhoods. Theft and one student attacking another were cause for concern, but a closed campus starting in December 2012 helped alleviate some worries.
Timar said the closed campus was for the students as much as it was for the school, as having students stay in the building for lunch helps the school earn Title I status to be able to offer free and reduced lunches.
“Sure, we listen to the community’s concerns, but the decision for a closed campus was a two-fold decision for our students and for us, financially,” she said. “We want the community to understand not every kid coming here is looking to get in trouble. They are coming here to get an education because they couldn’t get one where they lived.”
McClelland added that a lot of the crime that was happening in the vicinity of the school was happening at late hours, not during school hours.
Most people involved with the DLC’s first year were happy with how things ended and where the school is headed. There was a learning curve, but Timar said they are excited for school to be back in session.
“What we learned about our population is a lot of our students need educational interventions because they come from other school districts and they may have been pushed through,” she said. “We are trying to get them caught up in their content areas. We want students to feel welcome, along with their families, as we want to turn this into a learning experience for the whole family.”
For more information on the Digital Learning Center, visit www.ferndaleschools.org.