There’s a student sitting in your office, telling you that he’s just gotten the chance he’s been working towards for twelve years: an apprenticeship at a professional dance company on the other side of the country. Another student comes in: she’s been offered a prestigious internship at an epigenetics lab in your city, but she has to be on site starting at noon every day. These are two of the most dynamic and engaged students in your school; they don’t want to withdraw, but they also don’t want to walk away from these amazing opportunities.
In the past, most schools haven’t been able to be as flexible as they wanted. When a family called to say they were planning to take a year to live with aging grandparents abroad, the typical responses were to pay full tuition for the year to guarantee the child’s spot, or take the chance of reapplying once you return--if there’s a spot at all. That binary doesn’t feel good to school leaders or families. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, showed schools that there’s a different way to imagine learning and community, one that doesn’t have to be bound by time and space.
Online courses, asynchronous work, and telepresence applications now make it possible for schools to support students who want to pursue off-campus experiences without having to sacrifice their academic growth. In 2020 and 2021, schools were forced to experiment with different modalities of learning, from “Zoom school” to self-paced course coursework. As academic leaders gained familiarity with a wide range of online learning platforms, they also learned that although learning online is different than learning in person, it can also be as challenging and engaging as any classroom experience.
For more than 100 years, educators have known that getting out of the classroom and into the real world is an opportunity to boost student learning. Online learning is an extension of that progressive approach to schooling. Students who are hungry for authentic engagement outside of the walls of a school can use online courses to create flexible schedules which allow them to pursue their passion.
At One Schoolhouse, we’ve worked with schools for years to help students make the most of extraordinary opportunities. An elite archer was able to train at the National Training Center in her junior and senior years, and still graduate with her class. Most years, we work with students who have earned apprenticeships at ballet companies, including the Bolshoi Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. Students like these complete most or all of their academic courses online with One Schoolhouse, and at the same time, stay enrolled at their home schools, which continues to provide services like academic advising and college counseling.
In the past sixteen months, we’ve learned how to do school differently. Now, many of our students are looking forward to a Fall 2021 that feels familiar. Some, however, have seen what a new approach to learning can make possible. Schools don’t have to let go of students who want new options and increased flexibility anymore--expanded partnerships and online experiences can keep students close, even when they’re spreading their wings.
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)