In 2011, Waterloo Community Schools converted the old McKinstry Elementary School building into a one-stop-shop for alternative education. The Expo Alternative Learning Center houses six different programs, including an alternative high school, a credit recovery program, a behavior remediation center, an 8th grade program for at-risk students, and services for behavior-related and other disabilities. For most of the students at Expo, this is their best chance to improve their situation and become an asset to the Waterloo community.
As you can presume, Expo Alternative Learning Center has students from all over the map, both geographically and academically. Learning abilities vary widely. So do background knowledge gaps. Couple those with the behavioral issues that most of the students experienced in the traditional classroom environment, and the leaders in charge of Expo ALC, including principal Brenton Shavers, knew they needed a more technological solution.
Expo adopted Plato Courseware for the entire building, and the staff immediately started using the system in all six of its programs. The majority of Expo's academic courses, from 6th to 12th grade, are completed online using Plato Courseware. As students complete a rigorous non-academic program with their in-person instructors, Plato helps support the school's efforts for a rigorous blended learning environment by providing the online instruction for the academic curriculum.
Working online eliminates many of the in-person classroom distractions that the students experienced in their previous schools. The smaller classes also help the students focus better on their studies and receive help when needed. Because the district's entire alternative services are housed under one roof, the students also have ready access to other services they need, like counseling and career advising.
Expo's students at the most risk–those in danger of dropping out completely–are making impressive gains of 5 to 10 percent annually in reading and science, while holding steady in math on their grade 11 Iowa Tests of Educational Development. As the goal of most of the programs is to be able to transition students back to their home school, other grade levels are harder to track. But with a mobility rate that tops the district, those transitions are happening thanks to the dedicated work of the Expo staff and the academic boost provided by Plato Courseware.
Anecdotally, Shavers knows of many students for whom the academic outcome would have been completely different if not for Expo and Plato Courseware. Their lifestyles simply did not translate to the traditional school environment. "Many students have shared that without Plato and the ability to log on whenever and wherever they wanted, none of this would have been possible," stated Shavers. "We needed a program that would re-engage students and allow them to work at their own pace, in and out of the school setting, so they could catch up academically and gain the skills and knowledge to enter college or the workforce."
To better meet the evolving needs of the community and its students, Expo is exploring other avenues to bring Plato Courseware's instruction to the kids, like a program in the local mall, as well as a completely online virtual program to supplement Expo's more traditional school structure in the new building. As more students are successfully prepared for the world of work or college, referrals of new students from Waterloo and the surrounding areas continue to grow. With Plato Courseware as a partner and a new, larger building, Expo Alternative Learning Center believes it is positioned to continue to serve as many students as possible.
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