Mission Dolores Academy Aims to Close Achievement Gap with Unique Blended Learning Program

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Academic gains and positive feedback reported during first year of pilot Phaedrus blended learning program prompt school to continue with second year.

“We've seen students make several years of progress in just one year. Students like the immediate online feedback, and teachers report students are more engaged and classrooms are easier to manage with activity rotation and small group instruction."

View Video and Learn more about the Phaedrus Blended Learning model at http://www.mdasf.org/blendedlearning/

Citing significant academic gains and benefits derived from more personalized instruction, Mission Dolores Academy officials report that the school recently started its second year in a pilot blended learning program, an educational model that combines traditional instruction and computer-based learning. On the forefront of a growing trend toward blended learning, the independent, inner-city elementary school in San Francisco began testing this innovative approach last fall for all students, from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Made possible by a grant of more than $500,000 in hardware, software and training from non-profit Seton Education Partners, each classroom is fitted with 15 computers and software that deliver personalized instruction to each student. The system allows students to rotate throughout the day from traditional teacher instruction, to computer-based learning, to small group activities that reinforce concepts and support students needing more personal attention.

Principal Dan Storz pointed to many benefits of the new blended learning model, noting that the program creates opportunities for smaller group instruction and more time for teachers to focus on improving higher level skills such as critical thinking. Additionally, self-paced computer modules allow students who are behind in a core subject area to catch up, while students with advanced skills can work beyond their grade level. Reports derived from the student work on the computer modules allow teachers to better analyze and address each student’s individual needs.

“We’re impressed by results so far and excited about the opportunities to take academic performance even higher,” Storz said. “We’ve seen students make several years of progress in just one year. The students like the immediate online feedback, and teachers report that students are more engaged and classrooms are easier to manage with the activity rotation and smaller group instruction.”

Mission Dolores Academy blended learning manager Matt Bowman reported that an improvement of more than two grade levels was noted in 8th grade language arts and 7th grade math. In all grade levels, on average, students moved forward in math not only one grade level, but one third into the next grade level.

Seton Managing Partner Scott Hamilton selected Mission Dolores Academy as a pioneer for their blended learning model in an effort called the Phaedrus Initiative. Hamilton initially saw the potential benefits of a blended learning model for inner-city Catholic schools to maintain their mission to provide a high quality and values-based education to students from all socio-economic backgrounds in this challenging economic environment. He noted that the model can be applied to other schools looking for state-of-the-art methods to improve students’ academic performance and overall educational experience.

“This model creates time and space for small group instruction, giving teachers more opportunities to meet the particular needs of each student,” Hamilton said. “Students, especially those without much technology at home, will also be better prepared to succeed in our tech-filled work world with consistent, daily computer-based instruction at an early age. It also creates more opportunities for teachers to teach teamwork and other skills and values that computers can’t teach.”

Principal Storz agreed that the program has great potential.
“The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive,” Storz said. “Now in our second year we have a better understanding of how to maximize the potential of our Phaedrus blended learning model to achieve even better results.”

Mission Dolores Academy is an independent Catholic school in San Francisco that provides an exceptional education to children of all faiths in Kindergarten through eighth grade. Mission Dolores Academy’s rigorous academic curriculum and individualized instruction prepares students to succeed in the Bay Area’s best high schools and provides them with the early foundations for college readiness, while providing a values-based education focused on building strong moral character. A generous tuition assistance program accommodates families of all income levels, demonstrating a commitment to maintaining a community that reflects the cultural and socio-economic diversity of the Bay Area. The school is located at 3371 16th Street, adjacent to the historic Mission Dolores Basilica.


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Stacey McNeill

Stacey McNeill
Mission Dolores Academy
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