Denver Online High School has changed drastically over the past four years. The school morphed from an online school that struggled with connection, retention, enrollment, and student academic success, into a blended learning school that now is proud of continuously growing enrollment numbers and some of the strongest school performance ratings in the district, especially in the Pathways Network. Denver Online has progressed over the course of four years from an Orange (Priority Improvement) rated school, to a Green (Accredited) school, and now to a Blue (Distinguished) rating, being one of seven schools in the district with this rating and the first Pathways school to earn a Distinguished score. This work takes a team, and Denver Online is lucky to have incredible people at the core of it that help propel the school forward. It is with great pride that Denver Online’s English Teacher, Jessica Glynn, was awarded by the Colorado Department of Education with the Teacher of the Year Award for Online and Blended Learning Programs for her integral work with Denver Online.
At the heart of Denver Online’s success has been a focus on connection and serving the whole child, instigating Connection Days that initiated the trend of more frequent face-to-face intentional interaction. Our 9th/10th graders meet every Thursday and our 11th/12th graders meet every other Friday for Connection Days. Students meet with their homeroom teachers and participate in academic replacement workshops (e.g. book discussions or science experiments), outside organization workshops (e.g. Art from Ashes or Lighthouse Writers Workshop), college/career readiness activities, service learning activities (e.g. our Children’s Hospital Colorado Service Learning Program), club time, and more.
Prior to starting Connection Days, Jessica brought in outside organizations for specialized workshops after seeing the need for more face-to-face support. Denver Public Schools highlighted her work in this area in 2014. That model and its impact on students was what fueled the launch of Connection Days. Jessica led the charge on that transition and has continued to be integral to continually modifying Connection Days to better serve students.
One meaningful opportunity she has enabled students to participate in during Connection Days is Art from Ashes that leads poetry workshops for students. Within the space of that workshop, students are able to share some of the deepest, most honest parts of their lives through words in an incredibly safe environment where there is no risk of being judged or talked down to. Because of this, students became beautifully supportive of each other, building each other up and getting involved together in other school projects, like all joining the theater club. One student even started sharing her poetry at the Sante Fe Art Walk regularly.
Jessica has an intense focus on imbedding a growth mindset into her students, using a plethora of ways to support students. She consistently leads small group sessions, meets with students individually (in-person and Zoom), works on close reads, develops specialized skill building assignments, modifies assignments or provides alternate assignments for students with unique needs, provides physical copies of books for students who prefer it, and gives thorough feedback that drives action. She uses course data to develop her Zoom live class sessions, doing reteaches of content in different ways. She also has students work through Cloze readings during Zoom sessions, promoting interaction with the content/each other in circling/underlining key words and phrases. She also gives thorough feedback on individual assignments, then creates a new DropBox for resubmittal after implementing her feedback. In this way, it is not a “one and done” assignment, but an assignment that allows students to intentionally process and edit their own work. Realizing that public speaking is a hole in the online environment, Jessica also starts every class with student introduction videos. Instead of allowing them to write an introduction, she pushes them use their microphones and cameras instead.
To drive deeper understanding, she uses tools such as No Red Ink for grammar support, Now Comment for collaborative annotation and discussion around text, and Springboard, a college board curriculum site for English Language Arts curriculum. She uses the Frayer Model in developing discussion boards, impelling students to defend and justify their thought process in their definition of words, and therefore their definition of the world. This creates an authentic virtual community that can sometimes be missing from discussion from a single prompt.
She works with different groups of students uniquely. For example, she first has helped our high-anxiety perfectionist students become more efficient and comfortable turning in their work. After realizing it would take some students hours to complete assignments that were meant to take only a small amount of time, she added suggested time limits for every assignment (e.g. “This assignment should take about 15minutes). Seeing that they were still struggling to complete assignments at a reasonable rate, she allowed them to write on their paper, “Although the suggested time was 20minutes, I’ve spent two hours on this assignment and it is still not my best work.” This allowed perfectionist students to turn in their work without being afraid of being “judged.” She also tries to allow students to connect their English projects with their passions. For example, she helped one student connect English with ballet, with the student ultimately choreographing a dance to represent Juliet’s evolution.
Jessica tenderly encourages students to share what matters to them in ways that matter to them. For example, one of her students, Mariem, was a refugee from the Iraq War. After reading a personal narrative writing assignment Jessica had assigned, she encouraged Mariem to write a book and share her story with others. As Jessica found it so powerful, she helped connect Mariem with 9 News to tell her story. While the student was very scared, Jessica worked slowly and thoughtfully with that student, ultimately helping her to become brave enough to share. You can watch the 9 News story about Mariem and Jessica here.
Jessica also helped uncover a struggling student’s love of literature, both through her online courses as well as his participation in the creative writing workshops, Lighthouse, that she brought to Connection Days. From there, she advocated to school leadership for him to get into specialty workshops that happened at Lighthouse’s location, furthering his skills in writing. This particular student grew significantly, ultimately feeling equipped and excited for his next steps into college. You can view his story and Jessica’s contribution to his achievement here.
Even while the school has continued to add more students, more than tripling enrollment numbers over the last four years, Denver Online has continued to see student academic growth. Our MAPs data shows a 21% increase in students showing growth in Reading and 35.5% increase in Language Usage among our students from the 2013-14 academic year to the 2016-17 academic year. In the 2016-17 year alone, 88.2% of our students showed growth in Reading and 83.5% in Language Usage. Our ACT scores have also increased: .83 points in English and .89 points in Reading from the 2013-14 school year to the 2016-17 school year.
While Jessica is not the only English teacher to credit for these advances, she has always played a central role within our English department. She serves on the Instructional Leadership Team that determines our school initiatives, as well as the School Leadership Team that evaluates school processes in the pursuit of obtaining goals associated with our School Performance Framework and Unified Improvement Plan. She is also one of two teachers from DOHS that are the first faculty members to become part of the Teacher Leader Program in DPS, now mentoring and giving continuous feedback and support to her peers. As a Teacher Leader, Jessica observes her peers’ virtual/in-person classrooms, giving instructional feedback at least once a month. She also establishes collaborative planning time for teachers, supports teachers in the development of their student learning objectives, and helps lead Data Teams. Inside the Data Teams Committee, they look at MAPs data as a baseline for student grade level proficiency. They also look at specific student course data, task analysis, and assessment to determine student learning objectives. From there, she helps lead the development of our academic intervention process. She also established our school-wide CERCA style writing model, coaching other teachers on the use of that model in their content areas.
While the realm of education continuously brings challenges, Jessica stays focused on what we can do, can change, and can implement to better support our students and school. There is no doubt that she is deserving of the significant award, but most importantly, we are proud of the powerful impact she makes on students every day.