As a freshman in high school, Maggie Fields was doing well — academically. But when it came to her social and emotional well-being, the traditional classroom setting just wasn’t a good fit.
“The atmosphere always seemed tense, and even though teachers encouraged students to ask for help, I never really felt comfortable enough to ask questions,” she explained.
In response, Maggie’s parents, Christine and Jim, enrolled her in Cincinnati Digital Academy, Cincinnati Public Schools' K-12 online school, midway through the 2016-17 school year. The mid-year transition had some bumps, but ultimately it proved to be the right move: the program’s format has enabled the 16-year-old to flourish.
“I like the ability to work at my own pace,” said Maggie. “Currently I am ahead in most of my classes, and that really takes the stress off.”
But more important, she has found it easier to foster one-on-one connections with her teachers. With multiple avenues to communicate with CDA staff — including by email, phone, text, online conference or in person — Maggie can choose the method she is most comfortable with to ask for help.
“Generally, all of my teachers are amazing,” Maggie said. “They all are supportive and help me when I need them.”
Her parents appreciate that she receives emotional as well as academic support from her teachers. Maggie isn’t just a number, they noted.
“We feel that the smaller student body allows the teachers to have better quality interactions with the students,” said Jim Fields. “Because of this, Maggie gets more one-on-one attention.”
That is by design, said high school math teacher Theresa Wessel.
“Even though I can work with students one-on-one in a classroom, I can’t do it as in-depth because of sheer numbers,” Wessel said. “In our online program, everything is one-on-one because our students work on their own at their own pace. When they do contact me for help, I can focus on them without interruption; they can take all the time they need.”
In addition to being Maggie’s math teacher, Wessel is also her homeroom teacher. As a homeroom teacher, she ensures her students put in the required five hours of work per day and stay current on their homework.
When Maggie fell behind on her coursework after missing several days of school last semester, Wessel sent her regular reminders as well as notes of encouragement. She also proposed a plan to help Maggie get caught up during winter break. The personalized attention was exactly what Maggie needed; by the first day of break, she was completely caught up on her schoolwork.
“Ms. Wessel encouraged me the whole way and told me when I was doing well and when I could be doing better,” said Maggie Fields. “Even now, every once in a while, she will send an encouraging message and tell me to keep up the good work. It made me feel like pushing through even when I felt like giving up.”
That high-touch help has helped Maggie become happier and more confident, her parents said.
“Having supports in place for students who need assistance is vital to academic success,” said Christine Fields. “Something as simple as a message through Apex or a brief text has proven to impact Maggie’s self-esteem as well as her motivation to continue doing well in school.”
It has also given the high school sophomore the challenge, support and motivation she needs to meet her goals. And it shows, her dad noted.
“Ms. Wessel has been instrumental in Maggie achieving her goals to work harder, to stay ahead and to improve her quality of work,” said Jim Fields. “As with many teenagers, Maggie doesn’t share a lot of details about her schoolwork, but she has been quick to share when Ms. Wessel messages her some encouraging words.”