Online learning has received more attention and focus in the past week with the coronavirus shutting down universities, community colleges and public, charter, and private schools here in the USA and across the globe. We all have heard of “digital natives” those young people who have grown up with technology, who are comfortable with it, and absorb it into their daily lives. There are also digital educational leaders who have been using e-and blended learning to truly add value and make a difference in the lives of children in the US, South America and Asia for over a decade.
We recently caught up with one of those leaders, Beth Baker, Co-founder and Executive Director along with her co-partner Glen Taylor, both from Michigan who have been engaged with cutting edge educational models for over a decade creating W-A-Y-Online, W-A-Y Academy, (a charter school network) and W-A-Y American Schools. They partner with local schools, parents and teachers and offer a robust, internationally accredited, project-based curriculum on their innovative cloud based platform.
We were pleased to have caught up with Beth, who has been busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger, to get her views on how W-A-Y and other e-learning leaders can partner with Governors, State School Boards, State Superintendents, local Schools Boards and Superintendents to assure learning not only continues, but to demonstrate how students can thrive as we cope with the pandemic.
If you want more information on how you can partner with W-A-Y American School as a School Board Member, Superintendent, Principal, Teacher, Parent or Student, check us out at: www.wayonline.net or call 1-800-201-9781.
EdNews: Beth, thank you for making time to sit down for a moment and help inform our readers about WAY’s efforts, historically and specifically, how you can help schools, parents and students during these exceptional challenging times. First, so we get this out right away, how do educators, policymakers, parents and students contact you?
Beth: Thank you for all you do to keep educators and others interested in Education News up-to-date on effective innovative educational efforts. First, I want to thank the leadership of Governors and Educators from around the country; and especially our Governor, Gretchen Whitmer for her leadership during this crisis. She made the difficult and right decision early on to close our schools, but has been equally adamant that learning must not end during this crisis. I commend her for her leadership.
EdNews: What is the story of W-A-Y? What does the acronym “W-A-Y” stand for? How are you different from other online programs?
Beth: Both Glen and I are educators who worked as teachers and administrators for years before starting our entrepreneurial efforts in education. Be clear, we remain educators at heart and stay close to our roots of quality teaching and learning in everything we do. We see ourselves as an extension of our partner schools to help children to get the education they need and deserve to prepare them for their future and not our past.
W-A-Y stands for WIDENING ADVANCEMENT FOR YOUTH
Beth has been recently named by Crain’s as one of Detroit’s most influential women in education. Before Co- founding WAY Program and WAY American School, Beth served as an Education Reform Consultant for Wayne County RESA serving 34 school districts, 16,000 teachers and 250,000 students. She started her career in education as a classroom teacher in the Wyandotte School District.
There are several public schools that offer online learning and other private companies in the online learning space. Some are exceptional, and many are mediocre at best. We are in the process of developing an educational e-learning website showing quality resources that are out there for school districts, schools, parents, teachers and students. We are in the business of helping schools and teachers help students to find their pathway to success. This website will highlight what we and others may offer and is part of our broader effort to help continue learning during this crisis.
EdNews: We have heard your Governor, Gretchen Whitmer has truly stepped up during this crisis in a number of fronts; especially in education. We read an article saying she was “dismayed” that her state education department won’t count online instruction during the schools shut down she ordered. Is this true?
Beth: Yes. As mentioned above, our Governor is leading during this crisis. She was absolutely right to demand we educate children during this crisis, outside the normal 6 hour school day, four walls of the school building and classroom, and broader than the binding of a textbook. We ought to be exploring all alternatives to assure learning continues and is “counted” during this public health crisis. Clearly there are issues of equity and all hands should be on deck, both public and private, to assure all children get the education they need and deserve during this trying time. There are proven alternatives, that with desire and creativity can be put into action to continue learning. That is exactly what we at W-A-Y are committed to doing.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues, educators, and support personnel here in Michigan and around the country for their leadership now and everyday. They are working hard and smart to help support our children and their efforts deserve praise and recognition.
Having said this, e-learning professionals in the public and private sector stand ready to work in tandem with our colleagues to ramp up existing and new alternative learning options.
EdNews: Change is often the most talked about and least acted on concept in public education. Online learning has been available to Michigan’s K-12 districts and schools across the country for nearly a decade and a half. Do you believe this virus should spur change in the often recalcitrant educational environment?
Beth: Yes, at least it should. As has been said by many, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. In 2005, former State Superintendent Tom Watkins published a research paper titled “The New Education (R)evolution: Exploring E-Learning Reforms for Michigan.” While Michigan adopted a few of his insights from 15 years ago, more needs to be done to create student-centered learning for all across our state. Your readers can read his report: (The New Education (R)evolution: Exploring E-Learning Reforms for Michigan) here:
Again, many schools and educators are very open to online learning and often just need the tools and professional development to effectively implement successful online strategies. We have been and are working with public, private and charter schools to do just this.
Our former State Superintendent, who helped take W-A-Y American School international, acknowledged that while COVID-19 has closed schools, many schools across Michigan and the US are not ready for online learning. He expresses those thoughts in a recent column in Michigan Advance and you can read here:
EdNews: Speaking of international learning, we have interviewed your co-partner, Glen Taylor about your global educational efforts. How is that going and how did you fair with the coronavirus shutting down education systems as early as January?
Beth: We have been serving networks of schools in the USA for 10 years and international for 5 years using a blended method of our project based learning model with face-to-face and online learning. As our partner schools shut down with not much more than a flick of a switch, we switched over to online learning full time and our students have not missed a beat. To be honest, that is a bit overstated, we were able to continue learning because of the hard work of our great teachers and partner school dedicated to assuring the crisis did not hinder the education of our students.
EdNews: Do you have the capacity to help your state and others expand e-learning at this time?
Beth: Yes, absolutely! W-A-Y and other online/e-blended learning vendors private, public and charter e-learning operators are standing by ready to serve students and are getting calls from districts, parents and students. The world has changed as this pandemic has washed over us and we want Governors, Legislators, Educational Leaders, Parents and Students to know we are here to help. We need a willingness for educational systems to change if we are to produce the expected and needed educational value for students.
The federal government must provide both funding and waivers to states and short term emergency funding to organizations like W-A-Y in order to provide the education students need and deserve during this crisis. We are offering our help and hope funding can be made available to provide technical assistance, staff development and innovative, project based learning platforms like ours to school districts and individual students.
EdNews: What about equity? Many struggling, economically disadvantaged communities and families don’t have computers at home, engaged parents, and internet access, what do you do to help these students?
Beth: This is our sweet spot. We have been working, using this blended learning model to help economically disadvantaged students for over a decade. We have provided both the devices and connectivity for families to facilitate learning. If there is a will, there is a W-A-Y! We have done it and could rapidly scale up to expand this model for some of the most vulnerable and those at even greater risk of falling behind as school buildings sit empty. It has been done and can be done in Michigan and across the country.
EdNews: Education is on the frontlines of this war without bombs and our children in far too many cases are becoming collateral damage. What are your thoughts on this and what should we do after the crisis abates, as it ultimately will if we all pull together.
Beth: First we need leaders to lead and tap the resources that we and others have to assure learning continues. To not do so would be very unfortunate and leave our children even further behind.
Clearly the Covid-19 is highlighting the inequities we have in our society and in our public schools. Students from families in less monied circumstances – urban, suburban, and rural school districts were struggling before this crisis and are waiting for life rafts to help in many fronts. We can help ALL children with e-learning, and we should put an extra effort for these families and students. Resources must be found to do so. Redirection of targeted Federal Title 1 and IDEA funds and other funding sources should be explored and done so rapidly.
The challenge is universal, many assume wealthier districts are ready and able to weather the crisis: students are connected, families are equipped with internet and mobile connectivity along with the tools – laptops and desktops, tablets and phones enabling continued online learning. Yet, several of these districts are not ready. This is both a challenge and opportunity for all . We can and will do better.
EdNews: Tell our readers a bit more about your online “HERO” platform and innovative project based learning curriculum. Why “HERO” and can school districts, and individual students easily learn the system, and will it help keep their students on target?
Beth: HERO is a standards aligned project based curriculum, communication, assessment, and reporting platform. It is designed by students and teachers, this helps ensure ease of use and engagement. The W-A-Y network is supported on the HERO platform and fully integrates HERO curriculum. W-A-Y American Schools are accredited by Cognia formerly known as Advanced Ed. The Michigan Department of Education partners with Cognia for school improvement and accreditation. Our accreditation report written by the Cognia assessment team specifically mentions the high rate of adoption and use of the HERO platform in all of our partner schools. Our stakeholders cited the high engagement in learning and ease of reporting as one of the reasons.
EdNews: Thank you for your time and great insights. Is there any other information you want to leave with our readers and again, how do people reach you?
Beth: If you want more information on how you can partner with W-A-Y American School as a School Board Member, Superintendent, Principal, Teacher, Parent or Student, check us out at: www.wayonline.net 1-800-201-9781