BOYERTOWN >> Boyertown Area School District has partnered with the Berks County Intermediate Unit this year to offer students cyber options through Berks Online Learning.
During the Feb. 28 school board meeting, Chief Academic Officer Melissa Woodard and Cyber Program Coordinator Michael Stoudt provided information and updates about the program.
There are a total of 31 (part-time and full-time) students, grades K-12, enrolled in the Boyertown Area School District Cyber Program this year.
The main goal of the program is to offer a flexible alternative and customized learning experience for students. Another goal would be to reduce the number of students enrolling in cyber charter schools and provide the chance for current cyber school students to return to their home district.
“We want to, down the road, be able to offer them even more opportunities for coursework — more flexibility in schedules, a wider catalog of courses — and our union and partnership with Berks Online Learning could help provide that,” said Woodard.
BOL was originally established in 2011-12 by BCIU. Around 2012-2014, BASD began its own cyber program not associated with Berks Online Learning. For past several years, the school district has been working with a different online vendor and “watched from a distance” as Berks Online Learning grew and developed into the stable program it is today.
Just last school year, Berks Online Learning expanded and forged partnerships with seven school districts throughout Berks County. Woodard said BASD reached out to all of those districts to gain feedback about the online learning program.
“We gathered a lot of information and we determined that the stability and the support that they’re able to offer were, frankly, far superior than we were able to have at that point in time. We determined to merge into partnership with Berks Online Learning for the start of this school year.”
Stoudt explained how Berks Online Learning provides solutions for part-time or full-time students, homebound students, accelerated learning; it also offers districts Pennsylvania Core aligned curriculum choices, course adjustments/modifications, hybrid and blended learning, weekly progress reports, and a board variety of potential course options.
“The greatest trait, and this is what we strive to see with our BASD students, is that it does provide a connection and enrollment in Boyertown Area School District,” said Stoudt.
Students enrolled in the program have the same resources and opportunities, such as the chance to participate in extra-curricular activities, as their brick-and-mortar classmates. They will also be able to graduate with a Boyertown diploma and attend the tech centers.
Woodard shared the number of students enrolled in outside Cyber/Charter schools throughout the past seven years, explaining how there has been an overall decrease in enrollment — from 129 students in 2010-2011 to 117 students in 2016-2017 — which is good news for BASD. She also pointed out that enrollment numbers fluctuate throughout the school year. “It’s a challenge to get an exact count because it’s continually evolving.”
“I think it’s very important to note that we’ve worked out with Berks Online Learning that we provide a 14-day trial period in this cyber scenario,” said Stoudt. “If kids are not successful within those 14 days, we are not even billed for costs of the program at that particular time.” Around day 12, a decision is made as to whether to student will remain in the program or if adjustments need to be made.
As far as potential savings for the district, and not including special education, Woodard said the average yearly cost per student for Berks Online Learning is $5,535; the average year cost for charter school $10,253.
The school district’s role and responsibilities in this partnership include determining graduation requirements, identifying district point of contact, identifying courses, providing technology and support for students, enforcing attendance policy, and managing report cards.
The BCIU serves as the liaison between the district and families, customizes Berks Online Learning program to meet district needs, monitors student progress, communicates with parents and school districts, and provides training for staff.
Moving forward, the school district is working to brand the program and plans to host an Informational Night each spring to present the cyber options to the public.
“One of the things that we keep falling back on is the ability to be more flexible to allow students to take additional or individual courses, or supplement the brick-and-mortar programs they are currently enrolled in,” said Stoudt. “It really allows an opportunity for kids to have the best of both worlds in their decisions.”
Following the presentation, board member Paul Stengle asked about the personal contact students would receive as a part of the Berks Online Learning and about staffing support for the program.
In response, Stoudt said all students enrolled in the Berks Online Learning program through BASD will have access to all BASD resources. As far as staffing, in addition to himself and Woodard, Stoudt said Technology Integration Lead Teacher Rabecca Hester has had a significant role in the process.
The Feb. 28 presentation was strictly informational; no action was taken.