Colorado District Celebrates New Blended Learning Facility

David Knoche, Falcon Virtual Academy principal, and Kim McClelland, iConnect Zone innovation leader, cut a ribbon Oct. 12, during a ceremony at Falcon Virtual Academy in Colorado Springs. The academy’€™s kindergarten-twelfth grade students can access more collaborative activities, such as tutoring, lessons and labs, due to renovations that transformed a 21,000 square-foot manufacturing warehouse into a blended learning center. 

A month after Falcon Virtual Academy’s new facility was unlocked for students, a ceremony recognized its relevancy in public education.

FVA staff and students gathered to celebrate with community members Oct. 12 in their new, brightly colored, tech savvy building. Falcon School District 49 is expanding its blended learning options for kindergarten-twelfth graders.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of everybody,” said Susan Patrick, president and chief executive officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a nonprofit organization that facilitates collaboration, advocacy and research for online schools.

As the morning’s guest speaker, Patrick addressed more than 100 people encircled by ribbons, balloons, awards and refreshments, an event sponsored by K12 Aventa Learning.

Following a culminating ribbon cutting, students would offer tours of the academy’s modern décor, Wi-Fi bistro and sofa areas, multiplatform workstations, videoconferencing systems, meeting rooms, as well as the sites for their upcoming art studio and science lab.

Patrick said the district is standing true to its motto, “A Special Place for Everyone,” by ensuring its families find personalized options.

“Every child is special, and they learn at their own pace and in their own way,” said Patrick, a worldwide authority in educational technology and digital innovation. She praised District 49’s educators and school board members: “You are visionaries and you are providing opportunities here in Colorado Springs, for kids, that are world class.”

District 49 authorized the multidistrict online academy in 2010. Five high school seniors graduated in 2011, and then 35 in 2012. More than 400 students are enrolled today.

FVA students started the 2012-2013 school year completing about 70 percent of their schoolwork online, according to Kim McClelland, iConnect Zone innovation leader. With expanding enrichment possibilities, she expects the online-to-classroom ratio to hit 50-50.

The academy’s physical space tripled with its recent move to 6113 Constitution Avenue, where a $1.4 million-renovation project has transformed a 21,000 square-foot manufacturing warehouse into a blended learning center.

David Knoche, FVA principal, says the academy can now accommodate up to 200 students interested in collaborative activities, such as tutoring, lessons and labs.

“Innovative, relevant and personalized are kind of the foundational beliefs of what we do here at Falcon Virtual Academy,” said Knoche, who described daily sources of inspiration in the academy, originating from its teachers and students.

Susan Patrick, International Association for K-12 Online Learning president and chief executive officer, discusses educational technology and digital innovation Oct. 12, during a ceremony at Falcon Virtual Academy in Colorado Springs.

Patrick talked about her global travels, emphasizing strategic education policies. Escalating education standards in China and India include progress in online and blended learning.

“We can’t afford to lose a single kid here,” said Patrick, about U.S. schools, explaining that China has 10 million more students classified as gifted and talented. China is spending enormous amounts of money on broadband infrastructure and online learning, she said.

“In China, they have a goal to use online and blended learning to reach 100 million more students with a world class education in the next 10 years,” said Patrick. “(India) has a plan to offer universal access to K-12 education to all students in India in the next 10 years … using a combination of online learning and community-based locations.

“They’re benchmarking international academic standards, digitalizing world class content and curriculum, training their best teachers to teach online,” she said.

“This country is full of people that love to innovate,” said Patrick, about the United States. “This country is full of passionate teachers that love to teach, and this country is full of kids that have enormous potential, creativity and aspirations to do amazing things.

Ninth grader Skyler Zimmerman, 14, and twelfth grader Maggie Murphy, 16, provide a building tour Oct. 12, after a ceremony at Falcon Virtual Academy in Colorado Springs. 

“It is a big deal for this country to have the bar raised,” she said, proposing that higher expectations are reasonable when schools focus on personalized options.

“We can help students learn that material, gain that mastery of competence, whether it’s in school or with digital curriculum, or through extended learning opportunities, like internships with businesses.

“We need world-class, scaled up, high quality, advanced learning models. … New schools that are blended learning and mastery based.

“You’re standing in one right now that exemplifies the future of education,” she said.