Hybrid learning combines digital and face-to-face instruction in an effort to personalize the learning experience for students, and has been a common practice in general education classrooms for over a decade.

However, with the exception of an hour or so of computer lab time, educators of at-risk students have been mostly limited in their efforts to truly integrate technology into the curriculum, because so much time is necessarily spent dealing with emotional and behavioral issues, which must take precedence.

Consequently, at-risk student instruction has been limited to the traditional textbook, paper and pencil model. When we administrators at Middlesex Regional Educational Services Commission (MRESC) discovered the hybrid learning methodology offered through Dellicker Strategies, which blended technology with traditional teaching methods, we were interested in learning more. We were intrigued when the company noted that hybrid learning was beneficial for schools interested in offering “customized learning pathways” for students, not to mention the added benefit of increased productivity for teachers and administrators.

Dellicker’s research showed the dynamic learning experience created through hybrid learning helped motivate students, strengthen student/teacher engagement, and ultimately improved academic performance by students. When used appropriately, hybrid learning offers more options for teachers when presenting information, enabling them to limit classroom lectures, and provide more personalized instruction to students.

“It was time to try something new with our at-risk student population,” said Gary Molenaar, MRESC’s assistant superintendent for learning/educational services.“Today’s students are digital natives, so it is critical to offer a classroom experience reflective of their world.”

The MRESC Board of Directors voted unanimously to support the hybrid learning initiative after Molenaar described its potential.

Hybrid learning includes distribution of Google Chromebooks to each student, and rotating to different learning stations throughout the day. A few months into the new semester, it is already earning rave reviews from students and staff.

“I can’t get enough of hybrid learning,” said Raritan Valley Academy (RVA) student Nate Frazier. “This is my senior year, and I can already tell it’s the best method of learning for me.”

Or as MCA student Jessenia Juarez said: “Last year it was hard to concentrate, but this year is great,” she added.

“I love it because I can focus on my work easier, there are fewer disruptions, and I can complete projects from home.”

The Google Chromebooks are distributed for use during school hours, and returned at the end of the day. However, students can access assignments from computers at home to complete unfinished work. Each student uses a Chromebook with his or her name on it to instill a sense of ownership, and for security purposes. Teachers and aides closely supervise computer use, and content is filtered based on federal guidelines.

During a typical day, students rotate among three learning stations in the hybrid learning classroom, including:

  • Direct learning Small group instruction with their teacher;
  • Collaborative learning Project-based learning with two to four classmates;
  • Independent learning Independent work with students progressing at their own pace, utilizing digital resources to practice, or enrich their learning experience.

Arthur E. Francis, principal of Middlesex County Academy (MCA) and Raritan Valley Academy, said hybrid learning helps at-risk students discover talents they may not be aware of, in addition to positively impacting classroom behavior.

“We are already seeing stronger student engagement with their assignments, and an improvement in student’s social skills when dealing with staff and classmates,” Mr. Francis said.

Among the educational Google Chromebook Apps used in tandem with hybrid learning are:

  • Compass learning A research-based digital content aligned with core content requirements;
  • BrainPOP Over 1,000 animated educational videos, with quizzes and supplemental information;
  • GeoGebra Mathematics software for interactive learning of geometry, algebra and related subjects.

After attending an open house at RVA and MCA earlier in the year, Edison High School counselor Arlene Rosenthal was impressed, adding, “it was quite helpful to see how the schools are using hybrid learning with students.”

Maha Youssef, a veteran MCA teacher, has no doubt that the new approach is working.

“Students are clearly more engaged,” she said. “Students are working well together in small groups, and independently. When working independently, students are also recognizing what it’s like to learn independently,” she added.

All staff involved in the effort were trained in hybrid learning instruction, which included a comprehensive two-day workshop in August led by Dellicker Strategies. With their support, we will regularly measure and monitor the impact the hybrid learning methodology is having on our students, and make modifications as needed.

Another benefit of the new initiative is Google Chromebooks are compliant with the PARCC Assessments (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) that New Jersey students are required to complete. The PARCC assessments are aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) “to measure students’ ability to apply their knowledge of concepts rather than memorizing facts.”

The Hybrid Learning methodology is currently being implemented at:

  • The Raritan Valley Academy, for students ages 10-21 with behavioral, learning and/or language disabilities.
  • The Middlesex County Academy, for students ages 12-21 who are at-risk or classified.
  • The NuView Academy, which collaborates with Princeton House to serve students ages 5-21 who have a diagnosis of depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and conduct, thought or anxiety disorders.

Hybrid learning is also offered in our Interim Alternative Education Program, which is for learning disabled and/or at-risk students ages 5-21 for up to 45 days, so they can continue meeting their learning goals until returning to their home district.

Mark J. Finkelstein is the superintendent for the Middlesex Regional Educational Services Commission. He is also a former president of NJSBA. He can be reached at (732) 777-9848.