By now, everyone is familiar with the concept of e-learning. But the Stern Center for Language and Learning has offered online learning since 2018.
By Kim J. Gifford
For 36 years, the Stern Center for Language and Learning has been dedicated to helping students identify their learning strengths and challenges and subsequently provide customized strategies to better help them succeed. Expanding to e-learning services in 2018 offered a different, sometimes better, option for students.
“E-learning has taken away all the transportation and travel issues of our students. We did a lot of research to find a platform that offered us the flexibility to meet individually with students,” says Michelle Szabo, director of instruction. Most students in the e-learning program live more than 45-minutes to an hour away from the Stern Center in Williston, Vt.
“Our e-learning program uses technology to deliver customized instruction of the highest caliber to students,” says Stephanie Waite, communications and marketing director. “Students log in using a secure, web-based platform and interact with their instructors in real time.”
Presently, Stern Center instructors serve in dual functions, teaching online and onsite. “Our goal is to eventually have a community of excellent teachers who teach only online,” says Szabo.
The Stern Center’s e-learning program has been growing, beginning with nine students during fiscal year 2018 and approximately 35 students in 2019. Students come from all over Vermont as well as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, Canada and Tunisia. During the 2019 summer, students received between 25 to 28 hours of instruction via e-learning each week.
“We’re being recognized for being able to offer the type of academic intervention, IEP services and academic coaching that students need,” says Szabo.
In an average year, Stern Center instructors work with approximately 500 students. “The new e-learning technology can now help a greater numbers of students as long as they have a high-speed Internet connection and a computer with a working camera/microphone,” says Waite.
How It Works
Prior to each session, the teacher creates a lesson plan and loads it to the platform along with any materials or handouts the student will need. Once the session begins, the teacher and student interact with each other just as they would if they were in the same room. The program typically caters to students beginning at age 10 (or the fourth grade) up through college age. Students receive instruction in subjects ranging from reading, writing and math to study skills, speech-language intervention and executive functioning such as notetaking, test preparation and time management.
Lana Bodach-Turner of East Montpelier, Vt., has an 11-year-old son who used the Stern Center’s e-learning program during the 2018-2019 school year. Her son has dyslexia and received services to support his reading fluency, spelling and writing skills. Through the e-learning program, Bodach-Turner says her son’s skills in all areas improved and by the end of the school year, he was “performing at (or near) grade level.” He also practiced techniques to allow him to transition to middle school with confidence.
While her family used the Stern Center over the years, Bodach-Turner explains that traveling to Williston, especially during the winter months, often proved “challenging.” She notes that the support her son received through the program was “amazing – every week my son’s agenda was posted for both of us to see and use. I could also view what was worked on during each of the sessions. My son knew what was expected during his sessions and any follow up work to do between sessions.”
For All Ages
In addition to younger students, the Stern Center has also been working with a growing number of colleges students, especially during the critical first year of college. Schools also contract with the Stern Center to provide instruction to students on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).
“E-learning enables us to provide instruction to these students during the school day without requiring them to leave school. It also enables school personnel to observe the instruction and learn more about the type of instruction we provide, which can lead to greater professional learning opportunities for school staff,” says Waite.
The Stern Center has even worked with adults in their 40s and 50s through its e-learning program. “There’s really a great array,” says Szabo. These adult learners tend to be trying to improve their workforce skills. “We’ve had one adult come to us to build professional writing skills.”
The Stern Center also has a growing number of professional learning courses available as live webinars. “We have two stand-alone professional learning courses that anyone can register for and take for credit online at any time — the Comprehensive Reading Course for Educators (MindPlay) and Building Blocks for Literacy,” says Waite.
The Stern Center’s new e-learning program continues to grow as more families become comfortable with online learning.
“We are really fortunate that everybody who started with us is continuing. The students have really liked it. It doesn’t take time out of their school day and the parents like that the students can come during their study hall, so they don’t have to give up their sports schedule, etc.,” says Szabo. “So far it matches wonderfully with what we do in person when we sit at the same table as the student. We’ve been able to maintain that one-to-one relationship the same intensity of instruction. We are able to help students with assignments and large long-term projects, so that parents don’t have to struggle at their kitchen table to help their kids with homework. We can become their kitchen table.”