Academy of Arts & Sciences Leverages Cutting Edge Technology to Perfect the Learning Environment

March 23, 2016

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The Academy of Arts & Sciences (AAS) brings flexibility and agility to students (known as "scholars") looking for an alternative to the traditional learning environment. The college-ready online charter school leverages cutting-edge technology to create a program centered on personalized scholar/teacher relationships, parental collaboration, and tailored curriculums that focus on scholars' strengths. Servicing more than 1,900 scholars from Sonoma to San Diego, the innovative K-12 program is an online public charter that welcomes scholars seeking credit recovery, schedule flexibility, or those that need a fresh start.

What distinguishes AAS from other online programs is the personalized course delivery mechanism. The mastery-based curriculum is comprised of math, language arts, history, science, foreign language, arts and music--subjects that closely mirror and align with public school requirements.

"Parents work closely with our teachers and staff to customize an approach that emphasizes the appropriate level mix along with the pace and timing that works best for scholars," explained Deborah Roger, Director, External Relations.

For example, a scholar from Ethiopia who relocated to California, recently enrolled in AAS and, based on tests and parental collaboration, received a multi-grade and level math course that focused on filling in knowledge gaps and building on strengths. Another scholar hadn't fared well in a traditional brick and mortar school environment due to behavioral issues, but excelled and surpassed expectations at AAS.

A Typical Day at AAS: A Team Effort
On a typical day, the scholar and parent (known as the "learning coach") will receive their daily lesson plan generated by the educational management system. Although the program is online, the curriculum follows public school requirements, so an online scholar is learning the exact same concepts as they would in a traditional public school.

Learning coaches then have the flexibility to control the timing and pace of the work. Some learning coaches will structure an 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. school day, while others may segment the day with lesson plans and social activities, all of which are determined by how scholars work best and achieve their personal goals and objectives.

Grading is based on a "mastery" approach. "In order to achieve mastery in a subject area, the scholars need to complete 80 - 100 percent of the lessons," said Steven Thompson, Elementary (K-5) Coordinator. "For example, there are 180 lessons in math and within those lessons are assessments. As the scholar works through the lessons and takes the assessments, the program calculates when they will complete the work and their mastery in the subject."

Teachers not only support the modules with phone calls and emails, but work in conjunction with learning coaches to facilitate the lesson plans and address any issues or concerns. AAS believes a successful scholar straddles academics with social peer interaction.

Merging the best of virtual-learning technology with rigorous social programs is also what makes AAS unique. Scholars meet weekly at any of the popular and well-attended social clubs (e.g. performing arts, book club, poetry, creative writing and photography). A diverse array of field trips (from college visits to cultural landmarks) is added to the mix, fostering a well-rounded educational experience.

"While we are an online charter school, we are proud of the increasing opportunities we are able to provide our scholars, such as the growth of our Scholar Clubs to increasing our field trips throughout the state," remarked J.J. Lewis, CEO. "We continue to involve our scholars in the growth of AAS, through surveys and an online suggestion box. These opportunities for feedback and input led to the creation of several new clubs, with more on the way in the next academic year."

AAS Makes the Grade
Virtual schools serve as a complement or an alternative to the traditional brick and mortar environment and emphasize a learning trajectory that's most beneficial for each student. Many parents appreciate having that option for their kids that may not fit the traditional school approach.

"AAS continues to provide a beautifully forged partnership, giving my 8th grader a perfect balance between his intensive ballet studies and academic demands," said an 8th grade parent. "As an independent thinker and learner he is engaged, challenged and never bored! We love the flexibility to design each day around his very busy schedule, and we love our incredible teachers! They are absolutely a BIG part of his success--always in communication, responding with insightful and thoughtful feedback."

AAS continues to make strides in accreditation and awards. Recently, they were granted Initial Accreditation Status through June 30, 2019 by the Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC) for their Los Angeles 9-12 and Oxnard/Ventura and Fresno K-12 charters (Sonoma, El Cajon, Del Mar, and Thousand Oaks/Simi Valley have already received Initial Accreditation Status from ACS WASC).

Additionally, biology teacher Adam Ramirez was recently named a recipient of a 2015 Teaching Fellowship from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF). The fellowship is presented to America's premier high school math and science teachers at the start of their careers to ensure that high-caliber beginning teachers remain in the profession.