Supporting rural schools’ innovation efforts to provide equitable access

Back in January, we shared about the launch of an exciting idea emerging out of Miami, Arizona, seeking to provide opportunities for high-achieving students in rural areas across the state. Out of that initial convening, organized primarily by Miami Jr./Sr. High School principal Glen Lineberry, the Arizona Student Opportunity Collaborative (AZ SOC) has emerged.

The AZ SOC launched this fall as a shared network of face-to-face and online course offerings of upper level classes for students across rural Arizona. Right now in its first term, they have six courses running and just under 60 students enrolled in the collaborative program. These courses include journalism, college-level English, geometry and algebra, Spanish and graphic design. The network plans to add a calculus offering in the spring. At present, classes are offered in face-to-face environments at a local high school, with students from other schools across the state joining in synchronously via Zoom video conferencing platform, as well as through the course’s learning management system (LMS). Lessons and materials are also digitally curated and available for students to use asynchronously. This quasi-blended or hybrid model is still in its infancy, and Glen and the teachers and students in the AZ SOC are still learning as they go, but so far the teachers are encouraged.

Along the way, the OofSI team has been working to support Glen and his team as they have convened stakeholders and potential partners, articulated the vision, and worked to bring the network of courses to life this fall for Arizona students. This summer, we provided training on using Google Classroom, their initial LMS for this fall, as well as on Zoom.

Last week, I had the opportunity to work with them on Canvas training and support as they plan their Spring 2020 semester rollout. After a deep dive into some of the exciting Canvas features, we spent most of our time learning by setting up course sandbox shells and building different course elements. We will meet with the AZ SOC teachers again over the course of this fall, and support the teachers’ sense of efficacy with using Canvas.

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. A student in a school with only a few hundred students may not have access to an AP math course, or a college-level English course in the same way that a student from a school with a few thousand students might. Of course, 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.

This network is still getting its feet under it, and Glen and the teachers have a laundry list of logistical challenges and needs to meet along the way as they stand this up. But as we at OofSI delve into the work of principled innovation by design, the AZ SOC stands out to me as a great example of what it looks like when committed educators who see a need begin to mobilize and take action -- all while learning as they iteratively work to ask big questions and tackle big challenges. I look forward to seeing this work continue.

To learn more about Glen and the AZ SOC, listen to this podcast episode Glen did with Dr. Melissa Sadorf on The Rural Scoop, which seeks to bring new ideas, innovative curriculum, and current rural school issues to the table and highlight what is working in rural communities.