FAIRBORN — As school districts across the country adopted virtual learning in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, one local school had its most successful year to date in 2020.
Fairborn Digital Academy graduated 14 students in January 2021, and graduated a record total of 65 students in June 2020. The 2020-2021 graduating class is FDA’s largest to date.
Founded in 2002, Fairborn Digital Academy is a dropout prevention and recovery community school serving grades 9-12, sponsored by Fairborn City Schools. Students that attend FDA oftentimes have difficulty learning in a traditional high school setting, and receive highly individualized learning from their teachers, or “accountability coaches” at FDA.
“During the initial, widespread shutdown of most schools last spring, FDA made a seamless switch into a full online learning experience, adding Zoom meetings while continuing its robust engagement with students and parents,” the school said in a statement.
Learning at FDA is self-paced. Before the pandemic, the school offered in-person tutoring sessions, as well as other hands-on learning experiences. Additionally, students and their families are in nearly daily contact with their coaches at the school via phone, text, or Zoom, which has only ramped up since the pandemic.
“Our experience has taught us that just sitting a student in front of a computer and expecting the student to learn from watching a video or reading a webpage, doesn’t really work,” said Erik Tritsch, executive director of Fairborn Digital Academy. “Students need significant access to staff to help them understand their classes, which in turn takes some of the burden away from parents when it comes to supporting what is happening in the classroom.”
Rather than teaching a certain subject, FDA accountability coaches are assigned a group of students. The student-to-faculty ratio at FDA is less than 30:1. For some coaches, that ratio is 15:1. Despite being assigned a coach, students are tutored by and ask questions from coaches and support staff across a spectrum of disciplines.
21-year-old Alieyah Desiree Hamilton-Adams graduated from FDA in the spring 2020 while expecting her son. Hamilton-Adams started attending the school at the age of 17, after trying several other schools.
““It was a big difference from most schools I went to. Instead of books and hard lessons, everything is on a computer, which I personally preferred more,” Hamilton-Adams said. “The teachers are always there to help you if you ever need it because unlike most, they care about our education and our success. Even when you give up on yourself, they don’t. I know that first-hand. They stayed on me about a lot because they knew I had the potential to do it. On June 23, 2020 I received my high school diploma, pregnant at the age of 21, with no regrets.”
FDA has had nearly 20 years of trial-and-error experience in the field of digital learning. This foundation helped FDA virtual education became the norm across the country. The switch to virtual in many traditional school districts has put stress on parents. According to a Pew Research study published in October of 2020, 32 percent of parents whose children were engaged in online learning were concerned about their kids falling behind.
“I think there is a heightened awareness now among families that the flexibility digital learning provides can really benefit their kids, when it’s done well,” Tritsch said. “Parents are re-evaluating what a good educational experience means. This is what we were built for. We know that not everyone learns the same, and not everyone educates the same.”