Maplewood Academy, whose main campus is located in Hutchinson, Minnesota, is about to complete its sixth year of operation as a multi-campus school. Through MWA’s Connected Learning program, high school students are provided with several options for completing their secondary education at an Adventist academy. Currently, students attend MWA classes in five different states and 13 unique locations, with plans to expand in the coming school year.
How does Connected Learning work?
Connected Learning is an education model that leverages live video conferencing technology to provide a complete, interactive educational experience for high school students, regardless of location. This means that, through a laptop or video-conference system, students attend classes and interact with their teachers and other students in real time during each class. Connected students see and hear their teacher and their classmates as well as any presented content while using the video-conference application. Most importantly, unlike asynchronous (pre-recorded) distance learning programs that only allow students to receive content and classes, Connected students can be seen and heard by the teacher and all other students at each location during class time.
All MWA students, regardless of physical location, are also provided with a laptop and a specific set of online tools used to manage course content, assignments and projects, and to communicate outside of class with their teachers and classmates. This allows the Connected Learning program to operate in a mostly paperless environment and enables students to submit coursework digitally through the school’s online learning management system.
Facilitators also form an integral part of the Connected Learning program. A facilitator is an adult present with the student(s) at the connected site or home who provides encouragement, logistical support, proctors assessments, advocates for students, communicates with teachers, and builds relationships with connected families. Facilitators range from paid employees at the local site to volunteers or parents of individual connected students.
Positive relationships are an important part of any high school experience, and MWA is committed to providing opportunities for all students to spend time together to form lasting friendships. MWA Together, an expression of that commitment, is a four-day event conducted six times per year in which all students gather at the Hutchinson campus to bond, take part in class events and spiritual programs, and complete hands-on labs and course activities. Out-of-state students are required to attend two of the six Together Weekends, and Minnesota residents attend all of them.
Throughout the school year, Connected students are also encouraged to take advantage of additional opportunities to interact face-to-face through study tours, mission trips, athletic tournaments, and Connected site visits.
Why did MWA start a Connected Learning program?
Maplewood Academy opened its doors in 1904. Since that time, it has operated continuously, in a few different locations and buildings, as a co-educational Adventist boarding high school. In the last decade, MWA and the Minnesota Conference have witnessed the closing of many Adventist boarding academies and schools. The Maplewood Academy Board, Minnesota Conference leadership, and its constituency believe in the importance of Adventist high school education and wanted to create an innovative way to ensure its viability and longevity for current and future generations of high school students.
As a result, representatives of the Minnesota Conference began researching ways to reach families of high school students with educational options that fit varying needs and situations. After a one-year pilot partnership during the 2011-12 school year between Atlanta Adventist Academy and the Minnetonka Church, MWA launched its own distance learning program modeled after AAA’s program with high school students connecting to MWA’s Hutchinson campus from three school sites in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Metropolitan area.
Since that time, MWA has not only refined its delivery system, content and device management, but also expanded its options to include homeschool students. Additionally, in the spring of 2017, MWA was given permission to offer courses to students and schools anywhere in the North American Division through Connected Learning, which provides options for individuals, elementary schools, and church groups to gain local access to Adventist high school education.
What are students and teachers saying about Connected Learning?
Connected Learning has several strengths that make it an important option for families who wish to send their children to an Adventist high school but want or need them to continue to live at home for part or all of their high school experience, or who live too far from an Adventist high school to make commuting or attending a viable option.
Teigan Bauer, a freshman Connected student, takes a full course-load through MWA, which includes art, an area where she excels. She is expertly guided through the class by veteran teacher Suzanne Elmer, who has taught Connected Art since 2011. Bauer enjoys being a Connected student because it allows her to be involved, while at the same time getting her used to the high school setting and becoming comfortable with the new atmosphere. “I would definitely recommend [connected learning] to anyone who is unsure if they would do well in an environment with so many people, or if they’re looking for a different school experience and approach than they’ve previously had,” said Bauer.
Yulian Tinoco, a four-year connected senior, is very active in his local church and often travels with his father, taking part in ministry trips and leadership activities. Tinoco has appreciated the flexibility of MWA Connected Learning and shared, “I have quite a few responsibilities in my local church and community and I am glad that Connected Learning has been able to help me stay close and available to fulfill those responsibilities. One of the best things [about the program] is the ability to take my classes on the go. With the app, I can connect to my classes on my laptop or on my phone.”
Many students also appreciate the live delivery model that Connected Learning offers. Spencer Welch is a connected senior transfer student from Missouri, and one of his favorite aspects of the program is being able to talk to his teachers and fellow classmates in real time, as opposed to through emails or over the phone. “I feel more connected when I can see the teacher, and they have been really helpful when I needed it,” said Welch.
Teaching for a multi-campus high school is challenging but rewarding. Brooke Hansen, a full-time teacher at Southview Christian School who has also taught several MWA history and English courses since 2012, appreciates being able to impact students beyond those at her own school. “It enriches my life,” Ms. Hansen said. “It’s a lot of fun walking down the halls of the Administration Building at the Hutchinson campus and having students (both current and former) saying ‘Hi’ to me as we pass by each other.”
Who does MWA hope to serve through this program?
Throughout its journey as a distance education provider, MWA has grown in its understanding of the importance of innovation in education as a way of reaching teens both academically and spiritually. MWA believes being able to build relationships with students in many different locations is a gift from God, and with that comes the responsibility of living out its part of the Great Commission of Jesus Christ – going into the world and making more disciples of Jesus. MWA is committed to fulfilling its mission on a daily basis: grow. connect. educate. with Jesus, and what better way to do that than by leveraging powerful technology to help high school students build a personal relationship with Jesus through participation in Adventist education?
If you are a student, parent, church or elementary school looking for a way to help high school students in your area plug into Adventist high school education, we would love to partner with you! Please reach out to Vanessa Pujic, MWA Vice Principal for Connected Learning & Academics, to find out more.
-—Vanessa Pujic is the Vice Principal for Connected Learning at Maplewood Academy.