Digital Curriculum Is a Game-Changer for College Prep

A Washington State school uses digital CTE and electives to help students prepare for secondary education and plan for a career
Julia Brolin

For high school seniors, deciding what college to attend and what career path to pursue are enormous, life-changing, scary, and difficult decisions to make. With so much emphasis on new state standards, there’s not much opportunity to explore career interests through electives. Many students choose career paths in which they’ve had no experience, then go to college and pay for classes they think they’ll enjoy—only to discover it’s not the right fit and that they’ve wasted thousands of dollars in the process. Wouldn’t it save both time and money for students to gain career experience while in high school?

Unfortunately, many schools and districts do not have the resources to offer career-based electives in areas of study such as forensic science, cosmetology, business, or journalism. Federal Way Internet Academy (“iA” for short) is redefining the way students are learning by offering any of these courses, as well as a range of other electives to expand students’ interests and prepare them for the future.

With its first enrollment in 1997, iA became the first accredited online public school in Washington State. The school takes a blended learning approach and teams up with Washington high schools to offer a variety of elective courses for credit. Currently, more than 1,400 K-12 students are enrolled in at least one class where they can explore new career opportunities outside core curriculum areas.

“A lot of schools and curriculum providers provide the basics. We wanted to bring students in with something different,” explained Mike Feuling, iA’s curriculum director. “We weren’t going to interest students by offering freshman English, because everyone has that. We wanted to offer something that will truly engage students and supplement the education they’re getting in the classroom.”

A Worldwide Blended Collaboration

Dozens of Washington schools collaborate with iA to give students a range of career-focused options. Students have the opportunity to take a few classes at school and the rest online through eDynamic Learning, which offers more than 50 career and technical education and elective courses to high school and middle school students. Students work at their own pace and connect 1-on-1 with teachers daily. Administrators say this blended learning approach is working for today’s 21st-century learners because it’s unlike the traditional classroom setting. With the online courses, students get to pick the topic they want to explore, which keeps them involved in the content and helps them better retain information.

For example, students at Truman High School take a majority of their courses online with iA while on campus. Onsite teachers a couple of days a week present lessons and help students with questions. When they’re not in the classroom, teachers connect with students through virtual meetings.

With constant assessments and email from teachers and support staff, the students are able to stay on pace with learning plans. If they finish earlier than planned, they can take another course they may be interested in, like photography or child development.

Internet Academy offers an entire catalogue of classes to Washington students for free, but also serves students traveling across the globe. Many students have families in the military, so they are often moving in and out of the state and country. iA serves these students by allowing them to enroll in the full-time diploma program. “We have kids taking our courses who are scattered throughout the world, and keeping up with Washington State Standards,” explained Feuling.

College Prep Outside the Common Core

One of the first eDynamic Learning courses to be offered to iA students was Mythology, and the first time it was offered, the staff was overwhelmed by enrollment numbers and positive feedback. Today, favorite online classes include Forensic Science, Veterinary Science, Photography, and Gothic Literature—and new favorites include Parenting and Culinary Arts.

“You can tell how much the students love these courses by the quality of assignments they hand in,” said Feuling. “Teachers see their students being more inquisitive after going through a forensic lesson or a lesson in Gothic literature. The courses are unlike traditional classes based on a big 500-page textbook. The online ‘textbook’ includes high-quality images, videos, and student interaction. The format and content are what keeps students coming back for more.”

Teachers at Internet Academy believe the blended learning options give students a glimpse into a variety of career paths they may have never experienced. For example, a high school student who wants to become a veterinarian may never learn about that career in the classroom. With the online courses, enthusiastic learners are able to explore veterinary science for free, so they can get a better idea of what it takes to become a veterinarian and what the job entails—all while they’re still in high school.

Keeping up with the blended learning trend isn’t always easy, but in schools like Federal Way Internet Academy, students are creating their own learning paths with a web connection, a computer, self-management skills, strong guiding teachers, and a drive to prepare for college and beyond.

Julia Brolin holds a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication with an emphasis in Broadcast Journalism and has received more than 20 awards for her storytelling. Early in her career she worked as a news reporter for Fox 21 News in Duluth, MN where she made many connections with school administrators, educators, and students which fueled her excitement around education and technology. In her free time Julia enjoys fishing and snowboarding in below zero temperatures and playing with her dog Cooper.