September 29, 2017

A path to success: High-fives and academic growth increase at Holy Angels School with ‘blended learning’

Second-grade student Makenzie Yates enjoys using an adaptive computer program at Holy Angels School in Indianapolis, a program that identifies the academic level of each student and uses fun concepts to help them progress individually and as a group. It’s part of the school’s comprehensive “blended-learning” program that has become a model in the archdiocese. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Second-grade student Makenzie Yates enjoys using an adaptive computer program at Holy Angels School in Indianapolis, a program that identifies the academic level of each student and uses fun concepts to help them progress individually and as a group. It’s part of the school’s comprehensive “blended-learning” program that has become a model in the archdiocese. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

As a parent, Ashley Asante-Doyle loves the joy on her daughter’s face when she talks about what she has learned in school.

As a teacher, Mary Kate Veselik feels “awesome” knowing she has a way to increase the confidence and academic growth of all her students.

As a principal, Matt Goddard never tires of the high-fives and hugs he gets from smiling students who want to share their latest success.

All these reactions reflect the transformation that is taking shape at Holy Angels School in Indianapolis, one of the Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Academies that has become the model for a comprehensive “blended-learning” program in the archdiocese.

Academic performance at a school is supposed to grow 100 percent during a school year, according to Goddard. At Holy Angels, the growth was 11 percent beyond that standard in language arts during the 2016-17 school year and 28 percent beyond that standard in math.

Enrollment from last year to this year has also increased from 93 to 127 students at Holy Angels, a school for students from kindergarten through sixth grade.

Goddard credits that enrollment increase to three reasons: parents sharing the positive experience their children are having, the values that are being taught at the school, and the success of the “blended-learning” program that was launched last year.

“We’re the first one to do it in the archdiocese, and the first Notre Dame ACE Academy to do it,” Goddard says.

This year, some classes at Central Catholic School and St. Philip Neri School, two other Notre Dame ACE Academies in Indianapolis, are also using the promising educational model.

‘It’s so worth it when you see it’

The Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education touts that blended learning combines the benefits of individualized instruction through an adaptive computer program with a more traditional approach: guidance from a teacher for small groups of students.

As the second-grade teacher at Holy Angels, Veselik shares how the approach works—and her excitement for the difference she’s seen it make to students and teachers.

Veselik notes that in many traditional classroom settings, teachers teach to the average student—which can lead a lesser-performing student to struggle to keep up and a higher-performing student to potentially get bored. But blended learning focuses on identifying the academic level of each student, and helping them grow from there.

“It’s so worth it when you see it,” she says. “I had a student who couldn’t count to 20, and I had a student who already knew how to multiply. It’s awesome to see them working on the right amount of challenge. It’s also awesome to see my students’ excitement about how much they’re growing.”

She explains that students take a test at the beginning of the year that identifies their strengths and weaknesses in math and language arts, the two subject areas that are taught in the blended‑learning approach. Based upon the test results, adaptive software is used to create personalized learning activities that focus on the gaps in the students’ learning.

“Everything they’re doing on the computer is at their level,” Veselik says. “So if they’re behind, it fills in the gaps. And if they’re ahead and they’re passing their lessons, they can go into third- and fourth-grade work. It creates a plan for them to maximize academic growth.”

The program also lets the teacher see what students have mastered and what they haven’t grasped yet—knowledge the teacher can use right away to help a small group of students at the same academic level.

“The students like working with me in small groups because they get a lot of my attention,” Veselik says. “They’re able to be engaged right there.”

She says it’s a “ton of work for the teachers, at least initially,” but she “loves it” because of the students’ excitement about their successes.

As a parent, Asante-Doyle is also thrilled by the program—and the other qualities she sees for her daughter at Holy Angels.

‘It shows the love that’s there’

“I really enjoy hearing her talk about what she’s learned at school,” Asante‑Doyle says about her daughter, Makenzie Yates, a second-grader.

“A lot of the learning modules are set up as a game, so it’s fun for her, but she’s learning. If she masters something, she moves on to the next level. I know my child isn’t sitting in the classroom bored. She’s being challenged. And she comes home with challenging work. I love it.”

So does Makenzie.

“Reading and math are fun,” the 7-year-old says with a smile. “When we pass a lesson, that’s the fun part.”

Asante-Doyle is also impressed by the other qualities that she and her daughter have experienced at Holy Angels.

“I really appreciate the values that Holy Angels pushes in all the students,” Asante-Doyle says. “Makenzie enjoys the family setting there. And I love that she takes time to teach the other students. It shows the love that’s there at Holy Angels. I feel everybody there is really patient. They take the time to know the student and the parents.”

Her praise matches much of the feedback that the school’s principal has heard from parents who have helped increase Holy Angels’ enrollment this year.

A child’s excitement

“In asking people why they chose Holy Angels, they’ve said, ‘Word on the street,’ and ‘I heard good things about Holy Angels,’ and ‘friends and co-workers said how positive the experience is,’ ” Goddard says, listing some of the reasons.

At the same time, Goddard acknowledges that just as there are triumphs and tough times at all schools, the same is true for Holy Angels.

“When you’re here every day, you see the hard times, and you see the celebrations,” he says.

The constants are the staff’s commitment to help the students succeed in the blended-learning program, and the students’ excitement about their successes.

“I go down the hallway and see kids who want to give me a hug and a high‑five because they got 100 percent, or they’ve improved that much,” Goddard says. “To see a child get excited about their academic work lets you know you’re getting them on the path to success.”

He also measures success in a Friday tradition at Holy Angels—when students give fellow students “shout-outs” of praise for living the values that the school is highlighting each month.

“Hearing students noticing that in other students is just great.”

It’s all part of the two main goals that Holy Angels shares with all Catholic schools.

“As a staff, we’re giving a child a chance to be successful,” he says. “We’re giving them the footsteps to get to college and heaven.” †

 

Related story: Archdiocese, ACE Academies to celebrate Xtravaganza on Oct. 25

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!