Online learning, fieldwork IRL: NYC opens a new kind of hybrid high school

Online learning, fieldwork IRL: NYC opens a new kind of hybrid high school

Starting freshman year this September at Brooklyn’s Edward R. Murrow High School, River Wedding felt overwhelmed by its hulking campus with more than 3,500 other students.

The 15-year-old quickly sought advice from their middle school guidance counselor. Within days, they transferred to a city-run program called A School Without Walls, joining its inaugural class of 55 ninth graders.

“There was like nine people in the class,” said River, who uses they/them pronouns. “I was just like, ‘Whoof, I can breathe.’”

The new school uses a hybrid learning model, where students alternate between completing coursework at home and in traditional classrooms. But unlike the hybrid program that schools hastily adopted during the height of the pandemic — when students had more limited interactions with teachers during remote instruction and fewer opportunities to work with peers when in the classroom — the leaders behind School Without Walls hope to overhaul that approach.

Students said the new school offers more structure and individual guidance for remote instruction than they experienced during the pandemic. But the most significant change is the school’s focus on projects and fieldwork that are conducted away from students’ homes and classrooms — opportunities that the school’s leaders say would be more difficult to pull off within a traditional schedule.

“We’re using hybrid learning so that students have better access to resources in New York City and can engage in real-world learning,” said Veronica Coleman, the program’s principal. “For some students, going back to a building for a full day just didn’t feel like it was for them anymore.”

For now, students spend half of each day at home completing assignments and working with their teachers online. The rest of the day unfolds in person at an education department building in Downtown Brooklyn. As the program expands into 10th, 11th, and 12th grades over the next three years, students are expected to spend less time on traditional coursework.

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