We ask the experts: How do purpose-built online schools support students & set them up for future success?

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Individualised online learning and one on one mentor support shows great ‘future of work’ advantages. (Image: Supplied)
Individualised online learning and one on one mentor support shows great ‘future of work’ advantages. (Image: Supplied)

In 2019 and 2020, McKinsey surveys forecasted a predominantly individual classroom experience with personalised, self-paced instruction for students by 2030. This is an approach many academics agree with, and thriving online schools, like ASU Prep Digital in the United States, have implemented this for thousands of high school students. And the results are astounding.

But what does this individualised classroom look like in practice? It doesn’t have to look one specific way. It doesn't have to be an expensive, niche private school education. It could be, but it could also have a 'classroom of one' approach with mentor, counsellor and learning coach support at its core. But it’s more about the balance of one on one support and utilising technology to set students up for success in a personal capacity.

Recognising this need for innovation, as well as solid student support - the only true purpose-built school in South Africa, St Stithians Online High School, in collaboration with Valenture Institute, an online high school academic service provider offering an international Pearson Edexcel curriculum recognised by the world's leading universities, allows for real-world application and developing critical thinking skills. This sees students develop as individuals as they are not simply taught to recall information. Students are supported by a team of expert teachers, passionate mentors, and highly responsive technical support staff who keep students on track with their studies, and facilitate their holistic development.

For children to flourish and achieve at school they need to feel that they belong and are a valued and integral part of the school community. Belonging or connectedness involves feeling recognised, respected, included and supported. At St Stithians Online High School we strive to create a sense of belonging, where our students can establish their roots and are shaped, nurtured and encouraged to flourish.

We inspire them to become global citizens with insight and resilience, in an ever-changing world, while remaining grounded and rooted in their values. Our Pastoral Care system is an essential cog in the wheel of holistic support and nurturing, that highly values the critical role that a sense of belonging plays in whole school and whole child development and wellbeing.’ says Daniella Randall, School Counsellor.

The role of the school counsellor is to engage with students, staff and parents to ensure that students are supported holistically, both academically and emotionally, guided wherever possible by a restorative approach.

Support and training for teachers and mentors is offered by the school counsellor who also provides short term student counselling, making referrals to external experts when required. At St Stithians Online High School, the school counsellor and mentors meet regularly with faculty and the student experience team at large, to identify, monitor and support students who are at risk or flagged for both academic and socio-emotional concerns. The responsibility for approving and implementing internal accommodations, in addition to making formal accommodation applications to Pearson EdExcel, falls under the school counsellor.

Should families wish for a more in depth overview of their child’s cognitive abilities, the school counsellor is available for all CAT4 entrance assessment feedback. Together with student mentors, the school counsellor implements pastoral care initiatives and develops socio-emotional programmes for learning compass and homeroom sessions. Personalised interventions for their students and parents are provided by the school counsellor.

‘I feel highly supported at SSOS because of the amazing teachers who are always there to assist, and because of our mentor and campus manager who always check in on us and make sure that we are coping emotionally, academically and socially.’, says St Stithians Online High School student, Stephen-Luke Chellan and Unathi Ngwenya, ‘I feel incredibly supported, especially because of the amazing mentors that guide us throughout our entire journey, and the teachers who not only assist with office hours, they also understand how we feel with being on an online platform and recognize the possible difficulties that we face, and make the learning environment a safer one.’.

Echoing the student support for their children at St Stithians Online High School, ‘We have had a fantastic experience, Carmen has excelled with her academics and enjoys working in the flipped classroom environment, it suits her personality far better than a conventional schooling environment. The teachers and mentors are world class.’, says Marion Berry and Shauneez James, ‘My son looks forward to lessons and he is much more excited for classes than he ever was. His attitude is much more positive than ever before. This is because of the excellent teachers and staff that are willing to go the extra mile making the students more receptive and eager to learn.’

Personalised learning is more accessible than ever as technology affords online schools incredible visibility of a student’s progress as data measures and tracks each student’s learning path, and sees exactly what kinds of outcomes they are struggling with as individuals. Data is able to show where interventions need to be made before it is too late.

Valamis says that personalised learning experiences consider an individual student’s existing knowledge, experience and learning habits and then connect them to learning methods for improved overall learning performance. With a self-paced, personalised model, completing lessons and submitting assignments become personal responsibility. Students need to rely on themselves and have to reach out to mentors when they need help and assistance. Learning online thus teaches students to take charge of their own schooling and progress, but still be supported throughout the learning process.

At St Stithians Online High School’s students will be able to complete all their academic work in a high quality, socially-rich online learning environment, and still have access to the institution’s solid traditions, values, and principles. 

St Stithians Online High School will welcome its second cohort in January 2022. The online school offers an international curriculum with International GCSEs, AS and A level qualifications accredited by Pearson Edexcel to students from grade 8 - 13. Fees per month start at R7 150. For more information, visit https://bit.ly/SSOSWomen24_Apply or quote “Media24” when enquiring for your child on admissions@ssos.valentureonline.com.

In addition, online students will have the opportunity to study in one of Valenture Institute’s Boutique Campuses located in Cape Town and Johannesburg. These campuses will offer students a learning environment of the future in location-based hubs where they can create and collaborate with peers on campus while still learning online. Whilst these campuses provide a co-learning space with strict COVID monitoring protocols, the flexibility of attendance offered to students means that although COVID may shut down a physical space, the students continue their studies online uninterrupted. 

On campus, students get 1:1 guidance from learning coaches, and the highly-experienced faculty sets them up for success, giving every student an advantage for entry into the world’s top global universities. Learning coaches assist students to personalise their timetables - to balance both academic and social priorities - within the structured learning parameters, to review personal progress against every student’s individual goals, every week.

These supervised and bespoke co-learning spaces offer the best of a blended learning environment. The new learning normal that works for the student rather than the school.

Enrol at St Stithian Online High School.

Find out more: https://bit.ly/SSOS_Apply

Join our hosts, Ian Bredenkamp and Elana Afrika-Bredenkamp, for a 4-part series of Zoom webinars on aspects of online education at St Stithians Online High School. Next webinar on 30 September 2021. Sign up to join the live session here: https://www.ststithiansonlineschool.com/webinars

Watch the second episode on 'how St Stithians Online Schools support their students & set them up for success' here:

This post and content is sponsored, written and provided by Valenture Institute.

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