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‘They don’t allow you to fail’: In custom classrooms, at-risk students thrive

October 3, 2015 at 1:09 PM EDT
At a New York City high school, a technique called blended learning replaces a portion of traditional face-to-face instruction with online learning. The computerized curriculum has been shown to help at-risk students learn at the own pace. NewsHour's Hari Sreenivasan reports.

HARI SREENIVASAN: As technology plays a larger role in the classroom, what happens to the role of the teacher? An alternative high school in the Bronx is charting a course for both to coexist through an increasingly popular model called “blended learning.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: Bronx Arena High School is one of nearly 300 schools under a New York City program called innovation zone, or I-zone. Started in 2010, I-zone schools use online courses and technology to support personalized learning in the classroom. The curriculum is computerized and customized for each student. Evelyn Revollar has been teaching here for five years.Amgrad Logo

EVELYN REVOLLAR: It’s more targeted teaching than a traditional classroom. We’re grouping them based on what do you need to graduate? What holes can I fill? What academic holes can I fill that haven’t been filled yet? The computer’s just a tool.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In the past, Revollar would have taught the entire class at once, moving from one concept to the next. Instead, students here — equipped with laptops — work more independently and at their own pace.

LESLIANNA ALLEN: The teachers work one-on-one with you. So it’s not like I’m in a big classroom and with a bunch of kids, and I don’t understand something.

HARI SREENIVASAN: An online tracker helps students record their progress throughout the day. Now, Revollar can intercept problems as they happen for each student, based on real time feedback she gets.

LESLIANNA ALLEN: The tracker is just for us and the teachers to keep track of our courses. It tells me how many tasks that’s in that course and how many tasks I’m supposed to be doing that day.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The technology helps students who did not finish traditional high school. Leslianna Allen quit school in 10th grade and needed extra help in global studies and math. At 18, she is getting a second chance at Bronx Arena.

LESLIANNA ALLEN: I used to struggle with global and math a lot, like I hated math. I hated global and since I came here, I finished my whole math course, because I went at my pace and had teachers to help me too.

You can actually help yourself moreover because everything is on the computer. You get what you need, and you’re able to get it faster.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Joseph Mcfadden was expelled from his previous school. This is his third year at Bronx Arena, and he is on track to graduate in January. He also credits his success to something a computer cannot do.

JOSEPH MCFADDEN: It’s a different experience. Like the teachers, they play the role of a teacher but they’re more of; they’re counselors. They’re advisors. They watch over you. They help you with your lessons.

LESLIANNA ALLEN: They don’t allow you to fail here, I got accepted, and my grades went way up.

JOSEPH MCFADDEN: She said at the end of the day, I can’t force you to do anything. I just want you to look back at yourself and ask yourself, where do you really want to be? Do

You really think school is for you? Do you really want to be something?’ If you do, then take your own actions into your hand and do something with yourself.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All that individual motivation per student takes time, and principal ty Cesene, who founded Bronx Arena in 2011, says the technology enables that.

TY CESENE: We wanted to use technology to maximize that time and really rely on the human part to do the human work, and try and take off some of the sort of administrative responsibilities that we have– that a computer could do.

HARI SREENIVASAN: As a result, teachers spend more time giving students individual attention and meeting with small groups for focused lessons.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Technology in and of itself is not a panacea for every classroom, but this Bronx school so far is having positive outcomes.

TY CESENE: In terms of the kids who leave us — eighty percent go to college, and over an 80 percent college retention rate, for the Bronx, for the whole city, and we’re proud of that.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Leslianna Allen hopes to be part of that success.

LESLIANNA ALLEN: My plans after graduation is to go to college and potentially be– potentially work with kids. I want go to college for early childhood. It makes me feel good because I’m a step closer to graduation.