NAPCS is using the Charter Blog to feature public charter schools that prepare students for college using a range of instructional strategies. NAPCS asked school leaders to tell us in their own words how they use different instructional methods to create a “college-prep” focus. By combining data on instructional strategies from a national survey with on the ground stories of the work of charter schools, NAPCS wants to show the scope of possibilities in how charter schools can provide great learning environments for students.
Myron B. Thompson Academy (MBTA) recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. The school, which began as an idea in a white paper on virtual learning back in the early 1990s, has blossomed into the oldest online school in Hawaii. Test scores are stellar, the curriculum is rigorous, teachers and students are thriving, and dynamic change is always in the air.
At Thompson Academy, grade 7-12 CORE courses are taught online, while many electives are face-to-face. Five years ago, the school realized that “canned” courses, with computer-graded quizzes were not adequately preparing students. The redesign of curriculum began with grade 7. Select teachers and the curriculum director spent a year researching and developing meaningful content, interactive teaching strategies, and quality assessments. The first group to complete the redesigned curriculum is currently in the tenth grade. These students have provided input on the degree of challenge in their classes, requested the development of specific course offerings, and provided the impetus for continued curricular redesign. Most courses are now developed and field-tested by teachers with assistance from the curriculum office. Professional development is ongoing, primarily in small groups, and courses are continuously updated, using data from assessments and student comments.
A week in the life of MBTA students begins on Monday morning, with a log-in to courses and a check of the weekly plan for each class. Students work in depth and at an accelerated pace. There will be content to read, Google Docs “discussions”, WebEx sessions, homework, projects and tests. All teachers offer one-on-one live or virtual tutoring. Students may contact their teachers via e-mail, instant message, telephone, or in person. Many teachers keep the lines of communication open in the evening. The Academy has students on the four major Hawaiian Islands, so working across distances on collaborative projects is the norm.
MBTA is currently at work on the design of two Institutes for 11th and 12th graders: one in STEM, with initial courses focused on the operations of a smart grid for electrical systems, and one in humanities, offering AP courses and interdisciplinary competitions in International Extemporaneous Speaking, Debate, and History Day projects. Institutes will be both virtual and face to face. In the near future, students at Myron B. Thompson Academy will complete all required courses by the end of junior year, allowing for specialization in the senior year.
Students feed into the online secondary program from Thompson’s elementary division, which is a combination of at-home and at-school instruction. Parents and teachers work together to deliver approved curriculum to K-6 students. While the elementary is primarily “high touch” instead of “high tech”, teachers also offer virtual lessons. Students are issued iPads and use these to document their learning.
MBTA strives to be an incubator of ideas, to push the boundaries of virtual education, and to truly teach our students. We have had many successes and look forward to many more.
Sharon Abrigo, Director of Curriculum
Find Myron B. Thompson Academy on the Public Charter School Dashboard