By Jenelyn Russo     2/8/2021

With the central goal of meeting the need of every child, the Diocese of Orange Catholic Schools is partnering with Loyola Marymount University’s iDEAL Institute (Innovation in Digital Education & Leadership) to bring blended learning instruction to designated elementary school sites. 

The mission of iDEAL is, “to advance learning by fostering forward-thinking in transformative and sustainable educational practice.” One of the initiatives offered by iDEAL to educators is in the area of blended learning, an approach that leverages technology, adaptive software and teaching methodologies that allow teachers to meet each student at his or her present level and progress them through mastery of identified standards. 

“Instead of us educators ‘teaching to the middle,’ using the software, the technology and these new teaching strategies, they’re able to really differentiate instruction for every child,” says Shannon N. Tabaldo, Founding Director of iDEAL and Director of Digital Curriculum Integration & Development in the School of Education at LMU. “What we see when we do this…is increased growth in learning.” 

Initiated by Associate Superintendent of Educational Programs, Dr. Brad Snyder, and supported through the generosity of an anonymous donor, three school sites – St. Joseph Catholic School in Placentia, St. Joseph Catholic School in Santa Ana, and La Purisima Catholic School – have begun the three-year training process to become certified as Blended Learning Partnership Schools. 

“In order for a child to grow spiritually, academically and physically, our schools need to adapt to them,” says the donor. “This will help enable each child to grow to their potential.” 

Each school receives 21 monthly training sessions over three years where teachers are presented with strategies that allow them to support each level of learner in the classroom – those students who may be struggling, those who need more of a challenge and those who are right on target.  

Additionally, one teacher from each school will complete additional coursework through LMU’s extension program and receive a Technology Integration Specialist Certification. Principals and teachers are also part of a larger network of blended learning schools across the country that allows for collaboration.  

St. Joseph Placentia and St. Joseph Santa Ana began the program last fall and are already seeing positive results. 

“It’s really empowered our teachers to continue teaching well,” says St. Joseph Santa Ana principal, Kelly Botto. “That’s been key in keeping kids engaged.” 

Bringing iDEAL into the classroom has been timely in light of implementing additional safety protocols due to COVID-19. 

“Through the blended learning, they’ve been able to continue to engage the students, group them effectively, still see growth in them and still have them feel connected to each other, even though they have to socially distance,” says St. Joseph Placentia principal, Amanda Hawley. 

La Purisima Catholic School began the program in December, and these new techniques allow for teachers to adapt lesson plans for the combination classes they have on campus.  

“We’re looking at differentiating our instruction more precisely…so that we’re able to meet the students where they are,” says La Purisima principal, Rosa Ramirez. “Now we’re not only looking at their ability level but also at their grade level.” 

All three schools feel the blended learning designation will set them apart and allow them to offer additional benefits to their families. 

“What we have to offer is the small class sizes, individual attention…and low student-to-teacher ratio,” says Hawley. “Put the blended learning on top of it, and it’s been a great marketing tool for us.” 

In continued support of blended learning, a new donor has stepped forward to support bringing the iDEAL program to additional schools within the diocese. 

“There is nothing more important than Catholic education, now more than ever,” says donors Rand and Rosemary Sperry. “The blended learning program makes this possible for all children.”