When her 11-year-old granddaughter was struggling in school, Christine Smalley knew she had to make a major change to get her back on track.
She found it in Donaldson Elementary School's blended-learning program, which allows students to complete most of their coursework online. Smalley, 59, who is guardian of her granddaughter, said the program provided that major change.
Last year, Smalley's granddaughter - who has mild learning disabilities - earned Ds and Fs and complained of bullying. This year in the new program, she's earning As, Bs and Cs, says the bullying has stopped and is bursting with enthusiasm and self-confidence.
"It is a total difference," Smalley said. "She has her self-esteem back. She is cheery and not depressed. It's like night and day. I would be a salesman for this program, it's so great."
Amphitheater Unified School District has implemented blended learning - in which students attend class two days a week and learn online the other three days - at Donaldson and El Hogar de la Paz Alternative Program. The district hired a teacher at Donaldson to coordinate the program there, and four teachers at El Hogar who tutor blended learning students at that school.
Amphi appears to be the only northwest-side public school that offers the option. Representatives from Marana and Flowing Wells Unified School Districts say they have no immediate plans to institute blended learning.
In the Amphi program students access lectures via live streaming video or recordings posted on websites. They communicate with teachers via phone, email and online chat.
Each student designates a learning coach - usually a parent or guardian - to help guide them through lessons and keep them on task.
Amphitheater associate to the superintendent Todd Jaeger said the program is designed to accommodate students and may keep some from leaving the district. The district might expand it in future years.
"Absolutely, this has potential for keeping kids who are looking to be served in a different kind of environment; a different kind of way," he said. "Perhaps one conducive to their style of learning."
According to Amphi associate superintendent Monica Nelson, three students at Donaldson and 15 at El Hogar are participating in blended learning.
Mary Damiani, Donaldson's blended-learning teacher, said the format allows her to devote more individual attention to students. Her job is designed for her to teach 25 students.
"The nice thing is that every student is moving at their own pace and level," she said, adding that the program is excellent for students who work faster than their peers and can remain bored and unchallenged, as well as those who tend to fall behind.
"There's no cookie-cutter that kids have to fit to find benefits in the program," Jaeger said. "Parents sometimes look for a different model from the traditional approach. It might be a situation where a student can't go to school during the day but can go in the evening."
Said Smalley: "When she struggles with learning something, I can literally stop and take all the time that I need to help her understand what she's missing. It is a fantastic program. I wish more parents would do this."
Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or firstname.lastname@example.org