Waterloo Community Schools in Waterloo, Iowa, is not a stereotypically homogenous Midwestern school district. In addition to being an ethnically diverse and relatively urban district, Waterloo Schools faces the challenges of a 21 percent mobility rate, a special needs population of 16 percent, and 60 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch.
For some Waterloo Schools students, an alternative learning method was needed to help ensure that they would graduate. That need led to the creation of the Performance Based Diploma Academy (PBDA). PBDA is neither a credit recovery program nor an easier path to graduation; nor is it a disciplinary program. It was developed to help students who have not reached their potential in a traditional learning environment or those who, for a variety of reasons, have fallen behind and may be at risk of not graduating.
Plato Courseware was chosen as the courseware solution provider for PBDA, and that turned out to be just the beginning of the relationship between Edmentum and Waterloo Schools.
PBDA classrooms are self-contained rooms, and the core rooms are outfitted as computer labs. But PBDA definitely has the skilled human touch as well; each of the two PDBA sites are staffed with a math teacher, a social studies teacher, a science teacher, a language arts teacher, a teacher coordinator, and a counselor.
The use of Plato Courseware within the PBDA sites has been “extremely successful,” according to Mary Meier, an education veteran of more than 38 years and executive director of career and secondary programs with Waterloo Schools. Plato Courseware online courses have been eagerly received by teachers and students alike. “Teachers enjoy their roles as learning facilitators and have been pleasantly surprised that it actually helps them get to know their students better than in a traditional environment,” said Meier. “I don’t think any of our teachers using Plato Courseware would go back to using their previous methods”. One aspect of Plato Courseware that has improved the teachers’ effectiveness and helped speed adoption is its customizability. Plato Courseware's flexibility helps teachers adapt courses to how they teach and to how their students learn. It also helps create courses that align with district standards and benchmarks. “Plato courses are at least as difficult, if not more difficult, than our traditional courses, while often making learning easier,” added Meier.
The success of PBDA has led to the use of Plato Courseware far beyond the original scope. The courses are now also used in the district’s middle schools and its after-school, credit recovery, special education, and summer school programs, as well as more areas.Meier explained, “The most surprising thing since our initial implementation is how the use of Plato Courseware has exploded throughout the district and across so many programs, and we’re only in our second year of using Plato Courseware.”
With Edmentum,Waterloo Schools found not just a vendor but a partner. Terms such as “wonderful” and “extremely accommodating” have been used to describe the training and professional development opportunities offered by Edmentum. Heather Roth,Waterloo Schools Plato Courseware account manager, said, “We love working with Waterloo Community School District and are gratified by the success it has had. We are committed to continuing to help its educators develop and its students achieve.
One measure of success is the extent to which the use of Plato Courseware has expanded so broadly and rapidly. But, a more important measure is that students who didn’t think that they were capable of learning are now learning. This has been most evident not only with PDBA but with credit recovery as well. In fact, one particularly challenged—and discouraged—student was able to recover 19 credits and earned his diploma as a result. “It is something special when students learn who didn’t think—and whose teachers didn’t think—they were capable of learning,” said Meier.
Waterloo Community Schools intends to continue expanding its use of Plato Courseware. Part of the plan includes a new integrated bridge program to help ready under-prepared eighth graders for high school. “It’s all about student achievement, and Plato Courseware is one more way to help us drive that,”Meier said. “It’s been especially gratifying to see students achieving who didn’t believe that they could.”
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