Providing advanced high school courses to rural Arizona communities

By

Erik Ketcherside

Students in rural high schools often don’t have access to advanced courses that can help them succeed in college, or even simply get accepted to the colleges they hope to attend. Teachers of calculus, physics, college-level English and other advanced subjects — typically highly qualified educators, often with advanced degrees — may not be attracted to smaller districts away from metropolitan areas. These districts may be unable to justify a full-time position for a teacher whose classes are limited in size, requiring these teachers to take on courses outside their passion.

ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is part of an initiative to increase access to advanced courses for rural Arizona high school students, while fully utilizing the skills and knowledge of rural teachers. The Arizona Student Opportunity Collaborative is a network of schools sharing online access to upper level courses throughout rural Arizona. AZ SOC currently offers six courses, with approximately 60 students enrolled. Each course is taught in real time in a traditional classroom at one of the schools, and offered to students via Zoom video conferencing. But because bell schedules at the member schools may not align, course sessions are also digitally curated and made available for students to access on their own time. MLFTC is supporting the collaborative with training for teachers who will be teaching courses online, and with consultation on technical infrastructure.

Glen Lineberry is principal at Miami Junior-Senior High School, which is located 80 miles east of downtown Phoenix and has 550 students in grades 6 through 12. In an October interview with “The Rural Scoop” podcast, Lineberry said he spearheaded the effort to create AZ SOC because students and parents in his district expect his school to offer advanced courses and college credits.

“I have a teacher with a master’s in English,” Lineberry said, “and San Carlos High School [on the San Carlos Apache Reservation] has a teacher with a PhD in chemistry. So why can’t my kids take chemistry with Dr. Rajput, and why can’t their kids take English 101 and 102 from Ms. Oldfield? The short answer is, they can, once you get past some technology issues,” Lineberry said. “And, if you can do it between two schools, you can do it through the six or seven high schools in Gila County, and even statewide.”

Planning for AZ SOC began in January in a workshop at ASU SkySong. The 60 workshop attendees included K–12 teachers, principals and administrators; faculty and staff members of ASU, Northern Arizona University Arizona community colleges; and representatives of the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Also present was Kathy Hoffman, who was elected Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction last year.

Benjamin Scragg, MLFTC’s project manager for AZ SOC, has been training the teachers in the Canvas online learning platform used for all ASU online courses. “As someone who grew up in a rural area, I can relate to the challenges rural high school students sometimes face when pursuing advanced, rigorous coursework,” Scragg says. “We know students in such a situation are no less talented or ambitious, and we know they deserve an opportunity to flourish and push themselves in pursuit of their academic goals.”