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Expo earns award for its online technology

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Ryder Shinstine, right, works on Literary Forms and Techniques as Grad Connection teacher Trina Martin helps Caylon Petersen with his work at Expo Alternative Learning Center, located in Waterloo, Iowa. (BRANDON POLLOCK / Courier Staff Photographer)

WATERLOO --- Expo Alternative Learning Center has achieved rock star status when it comes to using technology to educate its students.

Edmentum, the Minnesota company that makes the Plato software used for Internet-based courses across Waterloo Community Schools, presented Expo Principal Brenton Shavers with its Rock Star Award on Thursday.

The company created the award about six months ago to recognize schools across the country that are innovative in their use of the firm's software. As many as 20 awards have been handed out to schools across the country. Expo's award is the first in Iowa.

"The district is doing a lot of great things, but the most innovative things reside at Expo," said Heather Roth, the Edmentum account manager who works with Waterloo Schools. "So we decided to award them the Rock Star Award."

The software allows students to work at their own pace as they complete courses aligned to district standards. The district initially created a Performance Based Diploma Academy at both East and West high schools that allowed students struggling in traditional classes to work at their own pace using the Plato software. Later, the same online math, English, science and social studies curriculum was implemented in most programs based at the Alternative Learning Center and is regularly used by about 425 of its students.

Programs at the center using the curriculum include Expo High School, Grad Connection, Waterloo Educational and Behavioral Center, Waterloo Virtual High School, Crossroads Connection and the Bridge Program. The various programs are designed for students who return after dropping out, have behavior problems, have fallen behind in their credits, need smaller classroom settings or flexible schedules or are struggling with the transition to high school.

"They've truly developed programs here to meet the needs of students," said Roth. "They've gone above and beyond to tailor programs to meet the needs of students."

Kory Kelchen, coordinator for the district's online learning programs, believes that the Plato software is helping more students to be successful and graduate, partly because they can work at their own pace. "It's a really good way to individualize learning for all our students," he said.

"It's been a great addition to our program," noted Shavers. He said that the Plato curriculum has allowed students who were behind in credits to catch up with their peers.

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Education Reporter

I cover local schools and higher education for The Courier, where I’ve been a reporter for the past two decades. I’m a Minnesota native and have previously worked for newspapers there and in Illinois.

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