By Andrew Campanella with Savanna Buckner
Students at GOAL Academy in Colorado attend proms, participate in student councils, and go on field trips.
That might not sound very different from schools in your neighborhood.
There is one difference: GOAL Academy is a virtual school. More than 4,000 students from across Colorado attend the free public high school, and they pursue their coursework online.
Even with this innovative online setting, GOAL Academy’s leaders are doing everything possible to make sure that students have the same positive, memorable experiences as students in traditional, brick-and-mortar schools.
While students can complete their coursework online, the school also has “drop-in centers” strategically plotted throughout Colorado, which means students can choose to work on-site and receive personal support from academic coaches.
“[The academic coaches] are responsible to make contact with the students on a daily basis and be there to encourage them and provide support,” described Constance Jones, chief executive officer at GOAL. “It’s very important to have that opportunity to still have face-to-face contact with students.”
The drop-in centers are also the headquarters for “pod activities,” in which groups of 30-35 students are led by coaches in community projects. These projects have included planting gardens, conducting STEM experiments, and even canvassing local neighborhoods to help install smoke detectors in people’s homes.
Additionally, GOAL students can participate in one to two-week field trips— GOAL Ventures— exploring different parts of the U.S. and Mexico.
All these activities create an environment at GOAL where students feel inspired and encouraged to engage with their peers.
“There’s a huge team of support,” said Janelle Quick, director of human relations for GOAL.
“We still want to have student councils, and student advisory committees, and proms, and field trips,” Quick said. “ We do all of those things because we know that’s important to students in their high school years to engage. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean we don’t try to provide those things.”
For twelfth-grader Max Emory, GOAL’s unique blend of online learning and in-person support has allowed school to be a stable factor in a mobile life. While Emory has moved seven times in the past five years, he’s been able to attend GOAL for all of high school.
“The ability to move around and keep going to the same school, just being able to go to a different site… has really helped my education,” said Emory.
Emory, who will be joining the Coast Guard after graduation in June, described the school’s drop-in centers as a “safe place” he always feels comfortable going to if he can’t focus at home.
“I can speak with my coaches or even a counselor, and they actually take the time to listen,” he said. “They’ll actually talk to me about my problems and help me problem-solve. On top of that, with the pod activities and GOAL Ventures, they allow us the time to get away. It’s just great to have.”
The personalized support at GOAL also means that students from a variety of learning styles are finding success at the school.
“We run the gamut of serving at-risk students, students with special learning needs, all the way up to gifted and talented students,” said Quick. “The students can learn at their own pace. For some, that takes a little bit longer. For some, it takes less time, and they can advance through the curriculum a lot faster.”
GOAL’s blended model is a great example of how a school can harness the benefits of online learning while also providing the activities and support associated with brick-and-mortar schools. Students at GOAL get to have their prom, and virtual education too!