Nearly 1 in every 16 students in the United States drops out of high school before receiving their diploma. Some drop out to help struggling families; others struggle because of their family situation or lack thereof. Some start families of their own, earlier than they expected, and must prioritize work over school in order to provide for their children. Still others simply aren’t well served by the traditional education system. Whatever the reason or reasons, the result is predictably consistent.
The digital revolution—which requires that workers have an ever-growing grasp of technology for employment—has accelerated this divide. Fortunately, the same digital revolution has given rise to creative solutions for students who may not fit into the traditional education system.
GOAL Academy High School, a free, public alternative school in Colorado, works to provide a technology-driven solution to the high-school dropout problem.
As a blended learning educational model, most of GOAL Academy’s classes take place online. GOAL does provide brick-and-mortar drop-in buildings for students to meet in person, but most of the learning occurs remotely—through technology.
“Our school doesn’t function the same way a brick-and-mortar school does,” noted GOAL Executive Director Rich Mestas. “There’s not a teacher standing in front of 30 kids with a whiteboard in front of them or a blackboard in front of them teaching them how to do things. It doesn’t work that way in our school. We’ve got to come up with some pretty unique and inventive ways, using tech, so that we can actually reach these kids. We start with the laptop in everyone’s hands.”
Not surprisingly, then, GOAL Academy’s technology needs are rather complex. To put a laptop in everyone’s hands means deploying thousands of laptops and their attendant applications across the state of Colorado for staff, students, and faculty. Each of these groups has different requirements and objectives. And these objectives aren’t merely academic: students receive individually crafted, social-emotional support and mentoring from paraprofessionals and social workers, all of whom also navigate remote learning models.
The team deployed 4,000 Lenovo N22 Windows devices for students and ThinkPads for school staff.
GOAL Academy’s emphasis on individualized, data-driven success requires that its technology function for students from a diverse range of abilities, backgrounds, and knowledge bases. For example, GOAL educates ESS kids who may need specialized adaptive aids as well as English as a second language (ESL) students who may need a specialized translation software package. Microsoft Office 365 Education and Intune for Education offer tools that facilitate learning for all students.
GOAL Academy’s commitment to innovative technology and ability to deploy strategic, effective IT has been a lifeline for those who might have otherwise stayed lost in the cracks of a very complicated system. It has achieved remarkable success through a creative and evolving approach to technology and education that includes both academics and a focus on social-emotional growth. In fact, not only do GOAL’s students graduate with a high school diploma, but the vast majority graduate with work specialty certificates in hand. Since 2008, GOAL has graduated 4,108 students, and has, as a result, contributed an estimated $4 billion in economic impact to Colorado’s economic future.