State Initiative Makes Local Impact in Keokuk, IA

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State Initiative Makes Local Impact in Keokuk, IA

Keokuk High School
Zach Wigle,
2016 Iowa Secondary Principal of the Year
581 students
Grades 9 to 12
82% Caucasian
8% African American
14% special education
58% economically disadvantaged
The Challenge: 

Across the country, at-risk students fail to finish high school. They tend to fall into a lifelong cycle of poverty, poor health, and even criminal behavior. Seeing this trend, the state of Iowa authored a new strategy called Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates (iJAG). It is available to every district and focuses on career education, increasing academic achievement and the school-to-work transition.

Keokuk High School (KHS) in Keokuk, Iowa, took that framework and created an alternative program that leverages blended learning to meet the challenges brought by at-risk students, including variable scheduling, location flexibility, and individual pacing. However, students do not have to be in the iJAG program to reap the benefits of Plato Courseware.

“Before the implementation of Plato [Courseware], students at the alternative school completed their credits through packets,” recalled KHS teacher Missy Boutwell. “Some packets corresponded with books that students could use to complete them, but there were not always enough books. So, students would be ready to move onto a new class but would have to move onto classes they were not necessarily ready for because they would have to wait for books.”

Engaging students in their education and making sure that they do not fall through the cracks is a challenge nationwide. The state of Iowa authored a comprehensive program to guide at-risk students to a career. The way one district approaches the program, through Plato Courseware and blended learning, has seen its success rates skyrocket.
How They Did it: 

KHS decided to design its new program from the bottom up to address the unique needs of its students. Beyond offering credit recovery options for students, KHS has also created its own custom courses within Plato to tailor to specific areas of instruction. All of these custom courses align to the Iowa Core Standards, which are found through the search functionality in the custom course builder.

"Our main goal was to address individual needs of our students,” said Boutwell. “Our students are not cookie cutter, and we understand that a normal high school setting may not work for every student to allow them to be as successful as possible. So, in working with the student[s] and their families, it was about creating that schedule that would work best for them in helping them feel successful in working toward their education.”

Boutwell continued, “Plato provides another option for students who may be struggling, and it allows them the flexibility they may need in their schedule to take care of outside responsibilities. It provides the hope that graduating is still a viable option for many of our students instead of dropping out.”

The goal for KHS has always been to be able to fit the necessities of as many students as possible. That has meant offering learning in nontraditional times and places.

“The middle school and high school are implementing Plato as a credit recovery option for students,” explained Boutwell. “At the alternative school, it is implemented as an alternative educational setting completely. Students can attend one of the two sessions offered, in the morning or afternoon. Students have been assigned both sessions before, and students can elect to attend both on their own. Also, two years ago, we began implementing Plato for our summer school program. Students have to retake the class they have failed in order to recover the credit.”

As KHS’ efforts have grown, the breadth of students that it has been able to reach has also increased.

“We have special education students who utilize Plato as an alternative to some class settings but still [allow] them to be challenged academically through Plato,” Boutwell related. “We have had students who are managing mental illness, anxiety, medical issues, parenting, and injury who have been allowed, when necessary, to complete Plato from home and are supervised remotely from the high school on their progress, or they have been allowed to remain at the high school in a more relaxed atmosphere in order to recover credits on Plato. It allows for the flexibility that some students need in order to be academically successful.”

Plato provides another option for students who may be struggling, and it allows them the flexibility they may need in their schedule to take care of outside responsibilities. It provides the hope that graduating is still a viable option for many of our students instead of dropping out.
Missy Boutwell,
iJAG Specialist

In the seven years since Keokuk High School began its alternative and credit recovery programs, roughly 250 seniors have graduated who may not have had the opportunity to do so, who may have dropped out early, or who would have missed graduating with their cohorts.

Correspondingly, the graduation rate for the small district (KHS is the only high school) has skyrocketed over the past three years, from 81 percent to 91.14 percent, according to Keokuk superintendent Tim Hood in a February 2016 newspaper editorial.

Then, there is the human side of the story, the inspiring students who want to have the same opportunities as their mainstream classmates. Boutwell tells the account of one such student:

“Will had been diagnosed his sophomore year with psychogenic movement disorder. Psychogenic movement is an unwanted muscle movement, such as a spasm or tremor. . . . Because of the severity and the frequency of his condition, he spent most of that year seeing doctors and specialists until his diagnosis, instead of being able to complete his academics. . . . Will was able to recover 20 of the 21 credits needed. He was able to get himself back to grade level and on track to graduate.”

KHS’ success is truly a team effort and not just a task taken on by one person.

"The key with any program is finding great people to facilitate and teach it,” said KHS principal Zach Wigle. “When looking at ways to recover lost credits or enhance opportunities for students’ programs, coordination is key. We have been able to utilize multiple people in Keokuk to facilitate our credit recovery program with one goal in mind, and that is to see students succeed.” 

It’s important to have viable options for students who are struggling in life. At the Alternative School plato is able to serve that purpose to provide the success and flexibility students need to earn their diploma and move forward with their plans in life.
Jerry Jerome,
Alternative School Instructor

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