In the past, if a student failed a class at Riverside-Brookfield High School, he had no real alternative to taking the class over again the next year or taking the class in summer school. If you failed multiple classes, it was easy to get behind and lose hope of graduating; sometimes discouraged students would drop out. 

Now, thanks to an online credit recovery program implemented at RBHS, students have a chance to take a class over again online and work at their own pace to earn that credit and stay on course to graduate.

The program, which uses online classes offered by Seattle-based Apex Learning, has been fully implemented this year after being tried out as a pilot program last spring and summer

“That was very successful,” said RB Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Kristin Smetana, who oversees the credit recovery program. “Some students had a little trouble at first getting used to the online format and being a little more independent in their learning, but once they got the hang of it they really started to experience some success.”

Now 52 students are taking Apex classes to make up classes they previously failed. These students are usually taking the online classes in addition to their regular load of classes.

The program currently focuses on seniors who are short of credits needed for graduation. At the start of the current school year there were five fifth-year seniors in the program. Four of those made up the credits with Apex and have since graduated. 

If necessary, RBHS teachers modify the online courses to make sure they reflect the curriculum taught at the school.

“We have the ability to go in and modify those courses to reflect the courses and curriculum that we teach here,” Smetana said.

Students in the program are assigned a class period for the credit recovery program. The class meets in a room equipped with 15 computer stations, where students work independently online on whatever class they need to make up. 

“We make sure that there are no more than 15 students in there, so that we can provide support to the students that need it,” Smetana said.

Two staff members, often paraprofessionals, are always in the Apex room to provide individual assistance to students as they need it.

“No two students are alike in what their needs are,” Smetana said.

Students read class material online, watch video lectures and demonstrations, and take online tests to measure progress and understanding.

The entire credit recovery team, including guidance counselors, behavior specialists and a special education liaison, meets once a month to discuss student progress and what can be done to help them succeed.

Apex provides online courses that cover pretty much every subject.

Many students save math until the very end. Smetana, former math teacher, visits the Apex room on a regular basis and provides extra help to students struggling with Algebra II/Trigonometry. Students must pass three years of math to graduate from RBHS.

Students meet with their previous math teachers in the morning, but Smetana believes it’s important to provide help immediately when the students are struggling to understand a concept. 

“I would go in there and sit with them and make sure that I answer all of their questions so that they wouldn’t have to wait until the next morning to go back to one of their math teachers for some support,” Smetana said.

Students seem to like the program, according to their answers provided on questionnaires that were developed after the Landmark asked to talk to students involved in the credit recovery program.

“Apex is helping me learn things directly and at my own speed,” one student wrote. “I can go at the pace I need to go to understand the material.”

Students seem to like the online instruction.

“You teach yourself by reading instead of someone telling you everything,” another student wrote.

Students like the fact that they can learn at their own pace. Students don’t have to sit through the same class they failed previously for another semester or even an entire year. When they master the material they pass the course, whether it takes them one month or an entire school year.

“It’s a second chance without having the take an extra year,” one student wrote.

The Apex program is just one way RBHS makes special efforts to help struggling students. For younger students it has established a mentoring program for at-risk sophomores. Struggling students are closely monitored and extra supports are made available.

But making up credits is a key to graduation for some students, and the Apex program is especially helpful to some transfer students. 

“I think the credit recovery program is going to make a great difference in helping students graduate on time and recover credits, especially helping those students who come to us as transfer students that are really short credits,” Smetana said.