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The New Frontier: Blended Learning at HHS

Felicity Soto, Journalist

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The new Freshman Class of 2021 came flooding through the doors at Houston High School on opening day,  the 17th of August, excited for their first day of high school.  Many were surprised to learn five of their class periods were scheduled to be held in the commons, with all 87 of them on the roster for each class period.

Blended Learning is a big change in high schools across the country. It has many definitions, but at Houston High School, it looks like a small community, learning in one room.  The entire class is working together, in something more like a college seminar than a traditional ninth grade classroom.  The students are given the responsibility of their learning; they can no longer hide and not care.

 The freshman start their day with Science Literacy, a combo of English I and Biology, as a block class during first and second period.  Traditionally,  Mat-Su Borough students would take these two classes separately during their school day to get a half of a credit per semester per class. The students in the blended block at HHS, can earn an English I and Biology credit if they complete all the requirements of the class.

There are four teachers working together to give this opportunity to the freshman. The two Science teachers are Mr. Colton Conner and Mr. Brian Mitchell, and the two English teachers are Ms. Jennifer Gardner and Ms. Jennifer Jabbour.  They meet once a week to plan lessons that meet the standards of both curriculums.

It’s the same way in the Math block. “The math department is shaping an individualized education plan for each and every student,” Mr. Robert Knutson, one of the Math block teachers, said. The other Math block teachers are Mr. Steven Martin and Ms. Samantha Youmans.  The students work towards their Algebra I and Geometry credits or their Geometry and Algebra II credits during fifth and sixth periods.  

Their third blended class of the day is Freshman Transitions which meets during fourth period.  It is the only class of the three that isn’t a block.  Freshman Transitions focuses on supporting the students’ academics and team building. They learn how to build their class up, and how to work together. “It takes a community to move mountains,” Mr. Kristopher Wagoner, one of the Freshman Transitions teachers and one of the freshman class advisors, said, “and that is exactly what we are doing here, is building a community.”   

“If we don’t change [our curriculum] we are setting them [our students] up for failure,” Assistant Principal Mrs. Beth Buchanan said. “That is why things are changing at Houston High School. The world is changing, and schools need to change with it.  If they build a stronger, more tightly knit class, they will go far; they have proven that they can work together to get things done.”  

They proved this to be true during Homecoming week, September 11th through the 15th.  The freshman won three of the five spirit days.  Their spirit week participation was at an all time high. They won with 63% of their class participating for Sports Day, 54% on Hawaiian Day, and 86% on Hawk Day.  That has never before happened.  

The freshman usually perform poorly for spirit week due to the fact that upperclassmen have at least one year of experience under their belts.  The spirit week was a catalyst.  Last Friday night, at half time of the Homecoming Football game, their “Moana” float and a crew of kids decked out in pink, their class color, impressed the crowd with their spirit. The Freshman went on to win the entire Homecoming Week Spirit Challenge.  This is also a Houston High School first.

“I can get adjusted to my surroundings, and not be rushed like everyone else,” Onaleea Belair said.  In this blended learning environment, students can move at their own pace and have the opportunity to focus on passing their classes.

This program was created to help the freshman have greater success.

“When students fail a class, their chance of dropping out increases,” Justin Ainsworth, former Assistant Principal of Houston High, said, “that is another reason why blended learning will help.”

Some students really don’t like the format and want to go back to a traditional classroom. “Everyone is always talking because the same group of friends sit together everyday,” freshman Austin Slizeski said.

Spanish teacher, Mr. Angel Cruz disagrees, “[The freshman] are more task oriented and listen better, making class management easier, and they are working better with their teams.”

At the end of the day, we hope that our freshman are better grounded with a firm foundation on which to build their success before they finish their first year of high school,” Mr. Wagoner said.

 

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The New Frontier: Blended Learning at HHS