Schools often face challenges in meeting student needs because of gaps in their curriculum or staffing. One small private school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was in a crisis last year brought on by numerous gaps that were threatening to undermine its very foundation.
The school, Belvoir Christian Academy, which serves 120 students from grades K–8, went through an enrollment drop and staff cuts due to competition from larger schools nearby that offered more courses and activities. Its remaining students were spread across a wide range of developmental and learning levels. Serving those needs was especially difficult because the school’s textbooks and other resources were out of date. The school was also ill-equipped to serve an influx of special needs students whose parents were upset with the local public schools practice of placing their children in special education classrooms.
The situation was most acute for the 7th and 8th grades. The previous year, the low enrollment forced the school to combine 6th and 7th grades into one classroom—an experiment that fared poorly. With the problem migrating to the 7th and 8th grades for the 2014–2015 school year, the school’s board was on the brink of cancelling both grades as the unfortunate solution.
“I thought, no, these students have been with us all along, and we’ve got to find a way to service them,” said the school’s principal, Frank Streufert.
The school forged a partnership with Fuel Education to create a blended, digital learning strategy for the 7th and 8th grade students with a customized mix of curriculum, technology, and teaching support. The move enabled the school to keep its doors open for those students and has also reinvigorated the way the school views its mission.
“I was a little concerned at the beginning because the content is so rigorous, lots of critical thinking skills required, reading for information, applying the information that they’re learning, and a lot of writing. They have just not been used to doing that much,” says Cathy Butterworth, a longtime Belvoir teacher, who took on the new role of mentor teacher for the 7th and 8th grade students.
“But they have just taken off and really excelled. I’m so proud of them.”
Butterworth found that her role as a mentor teacher facilitating students’ assignments was far more involved than she first imagined. The students work with state-certified teachers in live, online sessions once or twice each week. The teachers also handle all the grading, but Butterworth is at the helm the rest of the time.
“I am able to personalize learning for all of my students. I am able to pick and choose what parts of the curriculum work for individual students,” she says, adding that she is able to give each student personal instruction time while others are working independently on their computers.
Butterworth says the level of customization to fit the diverse needs of the students is amazing. For instance, the eight students are taking five different math courses, ranging from basic math skills all the way to high school Algebra I.
“There’s no way we could do that before,” she says. And the FuelEd curriculum has also brought engaging, up-to-date lessons online, replacing the antiquated textbooks the school once wrestled with.
The turnaround has inspired the school to move forward with plans to add a high school program for the first time in the school’s history.
“I’ve just been pleased with the program and how it’s worked,” he says. “You all want to give it a try? I think you’ll find success if you have the students who need to be differentiated as part of your learning process.”
FuelEd has published a new guide, “Filling the Gaps at the Start of the School Year: Six Solutions to Curriculum Challenges,” which details the school’s transformation. The 18-page guide is filled with useful information, strategies, best practices, testimonials, and case studies about how FuelEd can partner with your school or district to help you fill curriculum or staffing gaps right now at the start of the school year.