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Millions of American children, and their parents, are still wondering what the Fall will look like if, and when, schools re-open their doors. Will classes be 100% online? Will students be required to wear masks and social distance? Will students only attend physical classes a few days a week? How will districts adhere to the most recent, and ever-changing CDC guidelines? With so many ways to address how kids will return to school, there are just as many questions about how kids will be successful in a different learning environment.

One of the possibilities in which I happen to strongly believe is the hybrid learning model. Several districts around the country have been providing this option to their students for several years. However, it remains to be seen if schools follow their lead to fully integrate a comprehensive hybrid model or simply adopt an alternative schedule under the guise of a hybrid program.

Omaha (NE) Public Schools operates Omaha Virtual School which is a hybrid learning program designed to provide students with a flexible learning environment centered around a digital curriculum (in this case K12 Inc) with high quality instruction being delivered by district teachers who have now spent several years being trained on best practices for teaching in such a setting.

Howard County Public Schools in Maryland, Spring Studio for Academic Excellence in Colorado, and Crown Point Community School Corporation in Indiana are all examples of school districts that have been implementing hybrid learning models for quite some time. The key moving forward for the current situation is how to build a hybrid model to address immediate need but also as a permanent offering.

Many district superintendents are now faced with similar opportunities. I have had dozens of conversations with district leadership teams in the last several months on the various ways hybrid learning models can be a part of the solution, both for the current situation and long-term. Hybrid learning is NOT the current method being written about in newspapers and education publications. The practice of sending out paper-based materials in large packets, downloading PDFs, along with a smattering of YouTube videos and Google Hangouts intended to be temporary in nature and more of a “have to do something” approach that every state in the country faced in March. This was simply a way to deal with an unprecedented emergency situation that left many wondering exactly what learning could take place from that point until the end of school.

True hybrid learning models should be tailored to meet the needs of the students who will be taking part of the offering. There is simply not a “one size fits all” approach. Some students will need more “touch points” thus requiring them to have less flexibility in the days they should attend a brick-and-mortar facility for traditional instruction. Other groups may only need to come to a facility one time per week or maybe less for one subject but more often for another subject (think one day for Algebra I and three days for World Literature). Younger students may need the socialization aspect of seeing their teacher and classmates more often and can be at the facility more often than not.

Once these “who” and “how” questions are answered, district leaders can begin to determine what digital curriculum align with this model. Remember, some students (if not all) will be engaged in learning that will take place outside of the traditional classroom. There should be capabilities for synchronous learning so that students and teachers can engage in real-time lessons or activities and have a feeling of normalcy. Teachers should have access to small-group instruction time for learning interventions and enrichments. The curriculum should have a nice mix of traditional text and rich multi-media so that there is a feel of innovation without too much gamification. Authentic learning should always be the goal, not just maintenance, and district leaders should choose wisely when searching for a digital curriculum provider.

Teachers and staff should not be forgotten in all of this. When I was in the classroom, teaching middle school, I would not have been prepared to tackle the challenge of teaching students in a virtual setting and neither was my district was capable of training me or my colleagues. We would have needed some outside assistance for professional development. As school leaders begin to look at digital curriculum providers they should also begin to see which providers also have strong support structures in place for on-boarding, launch, and on-going training for teachers and staff so that everyone is equipped with the skills to provide students with a great experience.

A hybrid learning approach can temporarily serve all students during rolling closures that may be caused by another wave of COVID-19. The model can also serve a smaller number of students on a permanent, full-time, basis. The latter will be very attractive for families who may not wish to send their children back full-time, need flexibility in school scheduling, or just believe a hybrid learning model is the best option for their child.

This can be achieved. It is not a new concept but many districts, for a variety of reasons, have failed to research the possibilities. Now, more than ever before, hybrid learning models are poised to be a great tool in the variety of solutions districts will begin to utilize as students begin to return to classrooms in Fall 2020 and beyond.

Seth McKinzie, Verano Learning Partners, Chief Development Officer | Seth began his career in education in 2005 as a middle school English Language Arts teacher. Over the course of the next eight years, he taught social studies and remedial writing and served as a football, baseball, and basketball coach. In 2012, Seth began working with K12 Inc on the Business Development team and launched new online and blended schools in Michigan, Texas, Nebraska, and expanded existing programs in several other states. Seth is dedicated to working every day to expand educational opportunities for students across the country through innovative design, meaningful relationships, and genuine conversation.

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