In the Piedmont City School District in Alabama, students are given the freedom to shape their own schedules using digital courseware from Middlebury Interactive Languages.
For all 10th-12th grade students in the district, first period is offered online. Students who maintain a grade average of B or higher can do their first period work when they choose, giving them the freedom to complete classwork and balance other activities, including getting more sleep. Studies have shown that students who get the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night are healthier and perform better academically than their sleep-deprived peers.
Students in the district who drop below a B average must come into school to do their work under the supervision of a teacher. Every Friday, all students must report to first period for a check-in to evaluate their progress.
Superintendent Matt Akin says that most students do their first period online work in the afternoon or early evening, according to the district’s peak periods for its network usage.
This is the second year Piedmont has offered this flexible first period class, and Superintendent Akin says that the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Students are happy to have more say in how their schedules are shaped, and parents are glad to see their children developing time management skills that they’ll need in college and careers.
Making Virtual First Period a Reality
The development of this flexible first period took a great deal of time and planning for the district. For Piedmont to consider such a program, they first had to ensure that all students had home Internet access, as well a device to access the course material online.
For six years, Piedmont City has provided one-to-one Macbooks for all students in grades 4-12. The majority of students access the Internet using a MiFi connection built into their laptops, so that they have access even after leaving school.
The district’s first foray into online learning,
for any subject, was Middlebury Interactive’s language courses. Piedmont’s Spanish teacher had resigned, and the district was struggling to find a full-time replacement. The district decided to pilot an online language platform to see whether they could find a suitable alternative for their students.
Middlebury Interactive was at the top of the list and was soon adopted not just for Spanish, but for Latin, German, French and Chinese as well. This meant that the district could expand their language offerings and also allow students to continue their language studies for a third year, which had not previously been possible.
“Middlebury Interactive is broadening the horizons of our students,” said Superintendent Akins. “They have a stronger background now, not only in learning new languages, but in learning new cultures too.”
Akin says that parents are pleased with the expansion of the curriculum provided through learning online, and students are thriving under the flexibility offered by self-paced learning.
Piedmont teacher Jennie Baer said, “Our students have changed as a result of being exposed to new languages and cultures. The exposure has sparked an interest in some students to visit a particular country when they get older.”
Piedmont student Emily Kisor added, “Middlebury Interative has opened up the world for me, because I am using it to help me with my future career. I would like to be a vet, so I am taking Latin to prepare for the medical terms.”
”Self-Paced and Mastery-Based”
After the successful implementation of Middlebury Interactive during the first period, Piedmont City began to expand their online course offerings to other subjects as well. They added new digital curriculums to their repertoire to provide even more support for their students.
“Middlebury Interactive was our first real dip into self-paced and mastery-based learning," said Superintendent Akin. “Our whole middle school is now based on that concept. Every class in middle school is self-paced and mastery-based.”
Offering the first period online was a natural outgrowth of the expansion of digital classes being offered in the district. As students thrived in the self-paced environment, district leaders realized that they had an opportunity to address recent research about the sleep habits of teenagers while also providing high school students with an opportunity to be self-directed and independent.
“The dynamics of my classroom have changed drastically,” said Ms. Baer. “Students have a higher level of accountability when it comes
to their progress. They also have the flexibility to work at their own pace and can focus on what is important on a particular day. This is an advantage that students in traditional high schools do not have.”
“Through learning online I am able to go at
my own pace,” said Piedmont student Chloe Mobley, “which allows me to get a better understanding of more difficult lessons. By learning a language this way, I feel I am becoming more self-disciplined.”