Arizona Department of Education

AIMS Intervention and Dropout Prevention Program TOOLKIT

Exemplary Program

Primavera Online High School (2007 Profile)

Contact information

Primavera Online High School

Mr. John Thomas

Senior Research Analyst

3029 North Alma School, Suite 226-227

Chandler, AZ85224

jthomas@primaveratech.org

Phone: (480) 456-6678

Fax: (480) 820-2168

 

Regarding Dropout Prevention Program:

Savina Dhawan, Project Director

sdhawan@primaveratech.org

Phone: (480) 456-6678 ext. 309

Description

Primavera is a free, accredited, distance-learning charter school serving at-risk students in urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the state of Arizona. This online high school provides the means for students to get a high school diploma (about 2000 students) or to take courses for credit recovery only (about 1000 students). The school serves students up to age 21 who have fallen far behind, are incarcerated, pregnant, parenting, disabled, employed, expelled, have behavioral or social issues, are learning disabled, homeless, disadvantaged, and/or are seeking a more individualized, flexible, accelerated instructional program. Many of Primavera's students would not be accepted at other schools. Many of the students are parents or work full-time.

A highly structured and highly organized learning environment characterizes this distance-learning program. Students access their courses through the Internet. Every course uses the same platform and is organized the same way. The class content and expectations are listed with all assignments, projects, discussion boards, and other course requirements. Teachers and students post messages about the lessons and assignments daily. Most course communication takes place on line through message boards, but students and teachers also communicate by email and by phone. Communications are personalized to each student, and individual contact is considered essential for student success. Class discussions, homework assignments, and the completion of all lessons within specific time frames are required for all courses. Teachers have online portfolios for many students, which are also accessible by the students. Teachers also access records about when and how much time each student is logged on to the course. Consistency is the key across all classes in terms of requirements, expectations, teaching, learning, and student assessment.


Program design


Goals


The goals of the school are to ensure that all students graduate or complete their credit recovery and to personalize the education experience of every student. To attain this goal, Primavera's faculty and staff work closely with students and their parents. The mission of the school is to provide the highest quality online high school educational experience through a fun, safe, and challenging learning environment, interactive technology, a rigorous curriculum, and individualized attention from faculty and staff.


Philosophy

Primavera founders and staff believe that every child in Arizona can learn. They offer the opportunity and flexibility for any student to earn high school credits and graduate from high school. The program openly enrolls and offers a year-round educational program to any student and especially welcomes students who have fallen behind, experienced social or behavioral problems, are parenting or pregnant youth, or are special education students.

Criteria for success


Students can enroll for either credit recovery or for the full high school program. For the full high school program, the standard diploma requires 21 credits to graduate. The advanced scholastic diploma requires 23 credits to graduate. Students complete two half-credit courses in each six-week block. In the summer, two four-week condensed blocks make it possible for students to earn up to two full credits by taking four courses in two months.

Each half-credit course requires completion of 30 lessons, where students must log-on and complete 5 lessons in a one-week period. Course grades are based on quizzes and tests (30%), discussion board participation (30%), course projects (30%) and exams (10%).

The sophisticated online learning system with one-on-one attention from teachers is designed to maximize student success.

Distribution of activities

30% Improvement in academic achievement

30% AIMS test-taking skills or practice testing

30% Workplace skills preparation

10% Instruction on leadership and civic duty

What contributes most to student success?

Close communication, monitoring of student participation and achievement, and one-on-one relationships between students and teachers

Individualized instruction is key to the success of the program. Communication is personalized to each student. Because the school operates in an environment where teachers and students do not see each other, Primavera has set up a system where teachers and students maintain tight communication, with a minimum personal contact of once per week for each course. Individualized communication often occurs on a daily basis. Personalized emails and phone calls between students and teachers allow for discussion of individual work, in addition to the Blackboard format and discussions used by the teacher and the entire class as a group.

A uniformly structured, well-designed, interesting and highly organized online academic program

Primavera has a specialized e-learning curriculum development staff that does research on the most effective instructional strategies for online learning. The courses are all structured the same way so that students know exactly what to do. The course content and methods have been extensively researched. Teachers work closely with the curriculum developers. Constant evaluation is used for course improvement.

Able to meet the needs of many different types of students

Primavera reaches students who have varied backgrounds and needs. They are able to offer an individualized high school program or a credit recovery program for students based on their individual levels and needs. Academic counselors help parents and students set up the individualized programs. Due to the flexibility, quality, and structure of the program, and to the close communication with teachers, specific needs of students can be met. As in any educational environment, students must come motivated to learn, and teachers and counselors play an important role in motivating students. Students can access their courses 24/7.

Highly motivated staff

Teachers report being very committed to working closely with students. Interviews with teachers reveal that they think they get to know their students in very different ways. The individualized online and telephone communication helps them to get to know their students perhaps better than they were able to with groups of students in the traditional classroom setting.

Continuous assessment and feedback to students

Because of the distance factor and the individualized nature of the program, a foolproof and comprehensive system of student assessment is critical. Teachers use a combination of frequent multiple-choice tests and quizzes as well as a student online portfolio of course work, including assignments and projects. In addition, students receive constant feedback and coaching throughout each course so that they can learn and achieve. Teachers focus most of their time on grading essays, homework projects, and discussion boards, and communicating with students by email and phone.

Students

Background

The school serves students up to age 21 who have fallen far behind, have dropped out of other schools, are incarcerated, pregnant, parenting, disabled, employed part or full time, expelled, have behavioral or social issues, are learning disabled, homeless, or disadvantaged, have health problems, and/or are seeking a more individualized and flexible instructional program. The school also attracts students who want an accelerated learning environment.

Recruitment

Students are recruited from across the entire state, with about 70% located in the Phoenix area. Students find out about Primavera through counselors from other schools, word of mouth, online sources, and referral centers. Fewer than 10% of students have passed all 3 AIMS tests before they enter the school, and this is one of the priority criteria for recruitment and selection.

Setting goals

Academic counselors work with students to set up their educational plan, which includes which courses they will take and what they need to do to achieve their plan.

Taking responsibility for learning


According to teachers, staff, and students, students must be self-motivated to log on and get their course work done. Since they can do it at any time of day or night, they must plan their own schedules. This takes a lot of initiative.

Motivation and incentives

Students get lots of individual feedback, coaching, and caring from teachers to help them keep moving forward in their work. Students receive certificates and rewards for good work. Parents are notified when students get A's or perform well in other ways. One source of motivation reported by students is that they are not judged on their physical appearance, race, gender, family situation, past history, etc.


Perspectives

 

Institutional support

Planning and decision making

The school is a charter school that is run in a corporate-like environment. Staff report that the school directors, program administrators, teachers, and staff participate in program decision-making in regular meetings.

Additional funding sources

NCLB Title funds, operational funds, additional grant funds

Staff and staff effectiveness

1 administrator

4 certified teachers

2 non-certified teachers

3 counselors

5 other staff

Professional development


Primavera has an in-depth orientation for new teachers. All new teachers go through the Mentoring Program. A mentor is assigned to all new teachers. Mentor who generally is an experienced teacher guides the new teacher for initial six weeks. Each new teacher receives a manual that provides detailed information about the online learning system and the teacher's role. Lead teachers from academic departments train new teachers. Both group and one-on-one trainings are held. Faculty meetings held every 2 weeks include discussions of best practice, how to communicate with students, and new policies.

Program evaluation

Primavera conducts constant evaluation on program design, services and courses. Many of the components of the school are very strong.

Program environment

Attendance

Attendance is monitored through every course by the amount of time students log-on to their classes. Teachers know immediately if a student is behind in his/her class work and can communicate with that student about it. If students risk not completing a class, teachers phone parents/guardians. Academic counselors and retention specialists are brought in when needed.

Safety and discipline

Since the school is accessed online, there are no school safety issues to address. Teachers commented on not having to deal with individual or group discipline problems. Students who have had discipline problems or are incarcerated can continue to learn.

Support and caring

Administrators and teachers report that interacting with students in a way that shows they care on a personal level about the student's success in their classes has a big impact on student outcomes. Teachers report that many of the students lack positive support and feedback about their schoolwork and other parts of their lives, so they provide as much support and feedback to them as possible. Students receive individual attention from teachers.

Student-teacher relationships

Student-teacher relationships are one of the hallmarks of the school that has been commented on throughout this summary. Students who want to take advantage of one-on-one feedback and coaching have every opportunity to work closely with their teachers.

Parent and family involvement

A parent or guardian must approve enrollment in the school. Teachers call parents if a student falls behind in class attendance and assignments. Teachers report that some parents are more responsive and involved than others. Not all students live with their parents.

Partnerships and linkages

Primavera has a close relationship with YMCA. They conduct AIMS tests for the students in locations around the state.

Prevention and social services

The school has counselors that students can contact online and by telephone. They provide a number of services and referrals for students and their families.

Academics

AIMS Intervention

Primavera offers remedial courses to prepare for each of the AIMS tests. Academic counselors recommend these courses to students who have previously failed AIMS, or are at risk of failing, but the courses are not mandatory.

Curriculum

Primavera has a specialized e-learning curriculum development staff that does research on the most effective instructional strategies for online learning.

Instructional strategies

Please see "What contributes most to student success" above.

Assessment strategies

Please see "What contributes most to student success" above.

Resources

Students must have a home computer to do their course work.
Students can also use YMA facility and computers for schoolwork.

Technology

The use of technology is obviously fundamental to this school. In addition to using email and doing all course work on line, students use Excel, Word and PowerPoint for many of their assignments. They can also take classes to learn how to use productivity software.

Vocational, leadership, workplace, and life skills

Community service and service learning


This is not a focus of the distance-learning program. However, they have developed an elective character education class where students are required to put in at least 90 minutes of community service.

Mentoring

Mentoring comes mainly through close communication with teachers.

Vocation/Career

In addition to offering typical academic classes, Primavera offers online career classes that cover career exploration, career planning and work skills.

Because many students are employed, many assignments are structured so that students can apply what they are learning to their current jobs.

Transitional services

Placement in higher education

Two full time Guidance/Enrollment Counselors work to identify possible participants, assist them with the enrollment process, provide the PWCP orientation, help them to develop a long term strategic plans for graduation and beyond, assess students using a Mapping Program that identifies their academic strengths and weaknesses, coordinate their classroom scheduling to ensure they meet their goals, and provide intervention services if students fail to make progress or consider dropping out of the project (from 2006 Audit report).

Placement in jobs

Most students that participated completed a course that included the Workforce Connection Portfolio during the condensed 2006 project period. However, many Junior and Senior level students who chose to participate did not have time during this project period to achieve this goal. These students only had time to participate in AIMS remediation interventions (from 2006 Audit report).

Site visit information

 

Claire Brown from LeCroy & Milligan Associates conducted a day-long site visit at the Primavera Online High School on April 24, 2007. Data for this site profile comes from a combination of field notes, interviews, document review, and online surveys.

Personal interviewed

Savina Dhawan, Grant Director

Susan Straub, William Becker, Project Specialists

Julie Godel, Guidance counselor

Helen Bradford, Retention Specialist

Ramesh Joshi, Kathy Farris, teachers and AIMS Remediation specialists

Students interviewed

Timothy, 10th grade

Nicole, 11th grade

Cassandra, 9th grade

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