Profiles of Next Gen Learning: USC Hybrid High School
Over 1 million high school kids, mostly in urban environments, drop out of school every year. Furthermore, only half of the kids who graduate from high school actually meet college entrance requirements. The University of Southern California Rossier School of Education has opened a public charter high school in downtown Los Angeles, with a mission to not only graduate 100% of its students, but also prepare them for success in college and the future. On Thursday February 28th, the NGLC team had the pleasure of visiting the USC Hybrid High campus and meeting with its inspiring students and teachers.
As its name suggests, USC Hybrid High School brings together different key components of education to revolutionize education and open doors for kids. By combining digital learning with real-life applications, academic content support with emotional advisory, flexible schedules with dynamic and open learning spaces, USC Hybrid High is truly taking personalized mastery-based learning to the next level — or, as they would be the first to say, is really trying to, in its first year open to students.
You can see a glimpse of the model Hybrid High’s founders are working hard to create in the next installment of our “Profiles of Next Generation Learning” video series, which NGLC is releasing today. The video provides a short, compelling portrait of this new-model school. But there’s no substitute for actually seeing it in person.
By bringing together the benefits of digital textbook learning with the depth and richness of project-based learning, Hybrid High’s vision is that students will be able to build on their content knowledge and make connections and applications in real-life experiences. Dr. Stephanie McClay, Principal of USC Hybrid High, asserts that “there’s no way to do what we’re doing without technology–it is essential.” The online curriculum presented by Apex provides academic content in a variety of ways to reach different learning styles and to engage students. The technology gives teachers real-time data on each student’s achievements and progress which, in turn, allows them to differentiate their instruction and tailor their intervention and support to meet each student’s needs. Hybrid is doing this within a fairly traditional course-model structure, rather than through completely personalized learning pathways for each student — a choice they made in part because of California’s A-to-G diploma requirements.
Within that course structure, personalized learning plans meet students where they are in their learning, regardless of their age, and allows them to learn at a pace that suits them best. Students advance once they have demonstrated mastery rather than after they have completed a certain amount of seat-time. Some students, the school has found, aren’t ready yet for this fairly radically different, self-directed approach to learning, and for them Hybrid High has set up two more traditionally-oriented classrooms. The goal for every student, though, is to move them towards self-directed pacing and (increasingly as the students complete years at the school) towards a richer blend of knowledge development and project-based learning.
The combination of academic and socio-emotional supports allows students to gain the content knowledge and develop the social skills that are imperative for success in life and college. When asked to describe the most important aspects of this program, without hesitation Dr. McClay says that it’s the connectedness between the students and the faculty that lies at the core of the school’s vision and impact. Students, when asked what is their favorite things about USC Hybrid High, say: “teachers care about me”; “I can go at my own pace”; and “I like the technology.” In order to set the students up for success and to achieve the school’s goal of graduating 100% of its students college ready and career prepared, the teachers and staff has to commit 100% to 100% the students. David Dwyer, founder of USC Hybrid High, says “Kids will stay in school if they feel connected.” This atmosphere of connectedness and collaboration, supported by the mastery-based format and personalized learning pathways, builds confidence and paves a path for success.
Scheduling conflicts account for one-third of high school dropouts, Dwyer says. So USC Hybrid High School is open for 10 hours per day, six days of the week, nearly year-round. An open space for learning is also necessary for flexibility and personalization. By navigating the huddle spaces, group tables, and individual learning stations, students discover what kind of learner they are and how to best direct their own learning. The open and dynamic floorplans at USC Hybrid High (to be built out over the next year) challenge conventional classroom layouts and are being designed to create engaging, collaborative and personalized environments for learning. The double-size classrooms are also, Dwyer says, critical to the school’s staffing model. “In a traditional school building, this model would require 50% more staffing,” he says.
USC Hybrid High is committed to offering all students the opportunity and possibility to go to college and be successful in the future. Dr. McClay states: “We want kids to develop an awareness of what they want to do and be and have choices when they leave.” To that end, Hybrid High is tackling the obstacles to high school completion head-on and — one day and one student at a time, in its inaugural year — is redesigning school to fit the current realities and needs of the 21st century learner.
Silke is the program coordinator at Next Generation Learning Challenges.