By Dorothy Markulis
The Akron Digital Academy is not the school of your grandmother’s day. It is a school of today and the future, combining individual learning with technology.
“We are a great example of blending learning,” said the academy’s superintendent and executive director Dr. David Bowlin. “We value academics but we focus on the whole child.”
Flexibility is a key ingredient in blending learning. Students at the Akron Digital Academy have access to classroom activity and home schooling via computers.
“It is a true blended learning,” he added.
That concept is what drew Bowlin to Akron from Pennsylvania in 2013 to become superintendent of the Akron Digital Academy.
Bowlin said the academy tailors learning experiences to the individual.
“These kids have a variety of life situations and we have people that really care about them,” Bowlin explained.
Deep learning through new technology is another ingredient of the Akron Digital Academy, according to its superintendent.
Akron Digital Academy is comprised of two schools: Evans High School for grades 9 through 12 and Kaiser Hall for grades 6 through 8. Both buildings are located on South Main Street in downtown Akron.
Bowlin said the enrollment is growing. Last year there were 411 students and this year there are 425 to 450 students.
“Our challenge is to keep them enrolled for the year,” he said. “We are enrolling kids every day.”
The academy does not have a deadline for enrollment, new students may enroll at any time.
“The key to our program is our personalized approach. Some of our students have life situations where they need to stay at home. We can provide that. Some need to come to class,” Bowlin said.
He said some students do all their work at home and some come to the physical plant two to four days each week depending on their individual curriculum.
“It is a true rich blended learning environment,” he declared.
According to the superintendent, 25 percent of the academy students have individual educational plans (IEPs).
“Our specialized teachers do a wonderful job with that,” Bowlin remarked.”
The academy takes the situation each student’s life situation – mental health issues, hunger, no parents, homelessness – and builds its learning environment around those issues, according to the superintendent.
“We want to get kids into school and get them properly equipped while providing them a level of security,” Bowlin declared.
Individualized attention is another basic of the academy. There is a ratio of eight students to each teacher.
Dominic Donatelli, director of operations for the Akron Digital Academy, said key assets of the school are flexibility and its one-on-one instruction.
“Our goal is to be as much like a regular school with viable option for all students,” Donatelli stated.
“If they need their curriculum completely on line, we can do that. If they need a brick and mortar environment, we can do that, too. Or, we can do both,” he declared. “We offer the best of both worlds.”
He said custom scheduling is a big asset of the Akron Digital Academy.
“Some students can’t sit in a school, we work around their schedule,” Donatelli added.
He said the biggest reward of his job is to see the students at graduation.
“Just to see the looks on the kids’ faces and the parents’ faces is amazing. Kids that couldn’t make it in a regular school,” Donatelli said.
“We believe in this model,” he concluded.
The Akron Digital Academy, which was founded in 2002 as an extension of the Akron Public Schools, began as a drop-out recovery program. In 2013 it reorganized under new sponsorship. It is a non-profit organization.
For more information, visit akrondigitalacademy.org or call 330-237-2200.