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Online academy benefits students at New Jersey high school

Fuel Education Online Courses boost graduation rate, number of courses offered at Lacey Township High School

Jim Handschuch has been the principal of Lacey Township High School, which is part of the Lacey Township School District in Ocean County, New Jersey, since 2012. During his first year as principal, Handschuch found a steady stream of seniors wanting to drop out. With little to offer struggling students who simply did not have enough time to retake full courses required for graduation, Handschuch could not convince many of them to stay in school. Last year, however, 12 of the 18 students who considered dropping out instead continued to graduation, by making up courses through an online learning program that boosted not only the graduation rate of struggling students, but expanded the academic offerings for all 1,450 students in the school.

Using FuelEd online courses, Lacey Online Learning Academy (LOLA) now provides digital credit recovery, AP, enrichment and school-offered courses outside of a traditional class schedule. “Once we started our relationship with FuelEd, we had a means to work with these students,” Handschuch says. “We even had past dropouts come back to take online courses so they could meet graduation requirements and receive their diplomas.” Flexibility has been key to the success and growth of LOLA, Handschuch says. “Online learning provides educators another way to address the needs of today’s learners,” he says. “We are able to expand our curriculum without hiring additional staff. We can adjust student schedules to meet the needs of individual learners.” About 90 Lacey students took a total of 160 online classes during LOLA’s inaugural school year. About 60 of those classes were credit recovery. So far this year, only about 15 of 80 online enrollments are for credit recovery, Handschuch says, because many students are getting back on track faster with FuelEd. “For some students last year, it was too late,” he says. “But now we have a ‘hook.’ If you fail a course as a freshman, you can make up those credits in the summer and return to school as a sophomore with your classmates. If students trip up, we have a way to pick them up.”

Credit recovery students complete online courses after school in a computer lab, monitored by a district teacher. Other online learners use media center computers during the school day. This past summer, the district ran its first summer school, which all 20 credit recovery students passed. Running LOLA, though still very new, has provided Handschuch with insights he gladly shares with peers throughout New Jersey, which does not have a state-led online learning program.

His lessons learned include:

  • Don’t cut online learners loose; if possible, have them work in school, where they are monitored.
  • Initially limit students to one online class at a time.
  • Consider charging a fee that is refunded when the course is successfully completed. “This gives students and parents buy-in,” he says.
  • Before implementing an online program, run several workshops to help students and families become comfortable with the program.
  • Understand your state’s requirements. For example, New Jersey requires a state-certified teacher lead all courses, even those online. FuelEd provides N.J.-certified teachers for all LOLA courses.
  • Recognize that the return on investment extends beyond the school and district. “We’re not just talking about remediation,” Handschuch says. “We want to push students to the next level and challenge them to succeed in different areas—graduate, get a good job or further their education. All of us in society will win in the long run.”

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