Carpe Diem Schools wants to bring blended learning to San Antonio

Carpe Diem Learning Systems, nationally known for its blended learning model, is applying for a Texas charter this year and is looking at San Antonio for Fall 2014.

Maybe you’ve read about Carpe Diem’s success in Yuma, Arizona. “Education Nation: In Arizona desert, a charter school competes”, Nick Pandolfo, Hechinger Report, September 24, 2012. Or about Carpe Diem Meridian, which opened in Indiana in 2012, as discussed in my earlier post. (For Fall 2013, Carpe Diem has plans for Cincinnati, Ohio. “CPS sponsors charter school”, Jessica Brown, Cincinnati Enquirer, December 10, 2012. And maybe also Fort Wayne, Indiana.)

On Saturday, I learned more about Carpe Diem at an information session at the offices of the San Antonio Area Foundation.

A Carpe Diem school does not look like what you think a school would look like. Students come to campus in the morning, swipe a card for attendance, and gather in the “fishbowl,” a large meeting room. Then, they break off into learning centers—each student in a cubicle with a computer—or go to a classroom for a team activity.

In the learning centers, each student gets personalized learning. The school sets goals for what material the students need to learn, but the student has control over how they learn. Students make better use of their learning time because they are challenged but not overwhelmed. Teachers are monitoring students’ progress hourly, and they are in the classrooms leading group projects. Instructional aides offer motivation and study skills advice.

A typical campus serves 300 students in grades 6-12. Each school is a small community where everyone knows everyone else. Students don’t need lockers to keep their belongings safe. Special education students, particularly kids with ADD and autism, may find that the learning centers work especially well for them. Each campus has team of 14 adults: nine faculty and instructional aides, a principal and a dean of students, a course manager who tracks performance data, an IT person who keeps the computers running; and a secretary and registrar.

Carpe Diem schools try to prepare students for life. Instead of team sports, the school offers personal trainers who help students track health goals. In addition to a diploma, students can earn job certifications and rearrange their schedules to take internships. Students set their own goals and have to face the consequences: if they don’t get their work done during the week, they have to come in on Saturday to finish. There’s no cafeteria, but students can buy a lunch from a local vendor, use a microwave to warm up their sack lunch, or get a free school lunch—no questions asked—if they can’t afford to buy one.

Carpe Diem is part of the Choose to Succeed initiative. If their charter application succeeds, and I hope it does, then the first campus in San Antonio would open in Fall 2014 and would serve grades 6-10; eventually, the campus would expand to serve grades 6-12. No word yet on locations. Because each campus is so small, it’s likely that there would be many campuses spread widely across the city.

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