Aspire Looks to Expand Blended Learning into More Schools

Aspire Public Schools, a non-profit charter operator, is looking to expand its unique "blended" approach to learning into more elementary school classrooms, The Journal reports. Currently, Aspire runs 34 charter schools around California and Tennessee and enrolls around 12,500 students.

Prior to the planned expansion, Aspire ran a blended learning pilot program in its ERES Academy school in Oakland. The program combined small classroom traditional learning with a computer-based approach. Students go between one environment and the other throughout their day.

The pilot will now be extended to two additional elementary schools – another one in Oakland and one in Los Angeles. In addition, a more limited implementation is also planned for two Aspire schools scheduled to be opened in Memphis.

According to Dian Schaffhauser, the article's author, the change is supposed to give teachers more one-on-one learning opportunities with each student. To facilitate the transition, each teacher will get an assistant not only to take up some of the teaching burden while the transition to blended learning occurs, but to also troubleshoot any technology-related issues.

So far, Aspire teachers who have been exposed to the new model are impressed. Amy Youngman, who teaches at the original pilot ERES Academy, said that the approach is superior to any other she has previously tried – especially because it gives her more of an opportunity to focus on each student's individual needs.

"Blended learning has changed the way I differentiate my instruction," said ERES Teacher Amy Youngman. "It blew the normal learning model out of the water. My lessons are able to be much more targeted and address students' needs."
"Blended learning supports Aspire's successful model of small-group and personalized instruction by enabling teachers to spend more one-on-one time with students to master specific concepts," said Aspire CEO James Willcox. "We have already seen great success integrating technology in instruction and know that Aspire students and teachers will continue to benefit from our blended learning model."

Schaffhauser writes that Aspire is planning a gradual adoption with some schools – like the Aspire Titan Academy in LA – setting up the first blended classrooms this January to K-3 graders. In the fall, Titan will expand the program to older students while at the same time launching the program for grades 3-5 at Aspire Millsmont Academy in Oakland.

In Memphis, the organization is launching two co-located schools in fall 2013 as part of the Achievement School District to serve elementary and middle school students up to grade 8. There, middle school students will be introduced to computer science instruction with the launch of "Code Aspire." The goal: to help students develop problem-solving and technology skills. Eventually, the new program will be added to all 10 Memphis-based Aspire schools set to open over the next five years. The Achievement district was created to encompass the bottom five percent of schools in Tennessee with the goal of putting them into the top 25 percent in five years. The district assigns each school to a charter operator, such as Aspire.

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