by MNOHS Executive Director Elissa Raffa
As a non-profit, teacher-led community school, MNOHS has invested in a very low student-teacher and student-counselor ratios. We do this so every student can get the attention he or she needs. Compare our student-teacher ratio (10.5 to 1) to the Minnesota classroom average (16 to 1) or to other models of “virtual” learning (60 to 1, or worse).
Since Covid-19 arrived and many schools were forced to pivot unexpectedly to emergency distance learning, much has been written about the impact on students. Clearly emergency distance learning is not the same as online learning, online learning isn't the right choice for all students, and MNOHS is unlike most other online learning options.
Let's unpack that last statement a little bit! When accredited by NCA CASI (AdvancED) 2013, MNOHS received four strong commendations. Exhibits exceptional commitment to help each student succeed as an individual is the one we’re most proud of. Here’s how we do it:
We make time for each student. The arithmetic is simple: Because MNOHS’ student-teacher ratio is very low, we are able to connect one-on-one with each student. Our teachers and counselors develop significant learning relationships with students to help ensure each one’s success. Compare this to for-profit online programs that maximize profits for shareholders by assigning one teacher to hundreds of students.
Students can make their own daily or weekly schedules. The MNOHS learning model is mainly asynchronous (not in real time), with added synchronous (real time) support. In 99% of our courses, class meetings are not required. If teachers hold class meetings, typically an hour a week, they are expected to offer an asynchronous make up option too. This gives students the flexibility to speed up through learning activities that are easy for them and slow down when they need to. It gives students and families the flexibility to schedule school around other important commitments. Some of our students participate in MNOHS Monday through Friday, during the day. Some participate at night or on weekends. Some like doing all their math on Monday, all their history on Tuesday, all their music on Wednesday, etc. All of this is great practice for post-secondary life, college and career.
We focus on active, connected learning. MNOHS students graph and interpret data using spreadsheets; develop geometric proofs using Geogebra; compose music using NoteFlight; practice drawing and painting techniques; conduct chemistry experiments at home and in an online virtual lab; edit photographs using Gimp; analyze poems, novels, primary source historical documents, and musical compositions; conjugate Spanish verbs; record field observations in geology or biology; write essays; and more—and they do it all from a distance, taking advantage of online resources provided by MNOHS as well as resources in their own communities. MNOHS teachers are online with students each day, answering questions, pointing students toward new discoveries, providing feedback, and encouraging their learning growth. Students have many opportunities to revise and resubmit work. They can call, text or email their teachers, or drop in to the MNOHS Academic Support Center if they want to talk through a particular assignment or just to connect.
Engagement and motivation can be an issue--and self-advocacy is part of the answer. At MNOHS we have invested in low student-teacher ratios and close student-teacher relationships. In this context, we encourage students to advocate for themselves no matter what the issue. This is not what most students expect at high school, and it takes practice. The transformations we have witnessed when students join us in this approach are well worth the effort. At MNOHS we have time for each student--to learn each one’s story and help each one get where he or she wants to go!