eLearning Academy to start school year in new space

Edmonds eLearning staff, from left, are front row -- Dawn Drake, Katie Bjornstad and Mercedes Kristal; middle row -- Soraya Al Khoury, Jamie Regis and Chris Huddleson; back row -- Debbie Onishi, Chuck Gonwa and Matt Vanni
Edmonds eLearning Academy staff are, from left, front row — Dawn Drake, Katie Bjornstad and Mercedes Kristal; middle row — Soraya Al Khoury, Jamie Regis and Chris Huddleson; back row — Debbie Onishi, Chuck Gonwa and Matt Vanni. (Photo courtesy Edmonds eLearning)

As summer draws to an end, teachers are getting ready to start a new year. For the Edmonds eLearning Academy, however, their preparations are a little more elaborate. This year, the eLearning Academy is moving to its new home at College Place Middle School.

Administrator Katie Bjornstad said she is excited about the new location, which features a large dedicated study lab, a reference library, self-contained facilities and space for the staff. Having worked previously out of Edmonds School District administration offices during the regular year and at Meadowdale High School library for the summer session, Bjornstad said the new facilities are not only larger, they offer a permanent year round home for the program.

According to Bjornstad, the eLearning program began in 2007, the project of Sam Gladstein. His vision was to provide non-traditional students an online alternative for classes. and starting with a staff of three and around 30-50 students, the first year the program offered courses for credit recovery. Since then. the program has grown — last year a staff of 12 assisted 550 students taking more than 1,200 courses, and the program is now recognized as one of the top 10 Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) programs in the state.

The academy now offers more than credit recovery, Bjornstad said. “Similar to the other high schools, our students take courses for a variety of reasons,” she said. “We are seeing an increase in students who enjoy taking an online course and prefer to learn this way especially with more challenging subjects such as language, advanced placement, and a course they might struggle with in
the traditional setting. We have athletes that need a flexible schedule, students who are too ill to attend a full day at their school, and students who find the traditional setting too distracting and need the extra support to focus and be successful. The majority of our students are ‘hybrid,’ meaning that they take one or more courses with us, but still remain a student with their home high school.”

She noted that one important element sets the academy apart from other online schools: The on-site lab. The lab provides computers and teachers ready to work one-on-one with the students. This gives the students the best of both worlds: the flexibility of the online environment and the support of in-person teaching, she said.

The program offers another practical benefit. “Many states are now requiring students to take at least one online course before they graduate to prepare them for post-graduation, where the majority of programs and colleges have online components,” Bjornstad said. “Our students need to be prepared to work in a world where they are expected to be self-managers, independent, creative, and advocate for themselves. We are teaching our students these skills in a supportive and safe online environment.”

And the program is expanding to middle schools, with a pilot program at their new host school, College Place Middle. While online learning at the primary and secondary levels is still seen as “alternative” education, Bjornstad looks forward to someday seeing online learning as commonplace as classroom education.

— By Karl Swenson

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