Backpack.

A collaboration between ASU Prep Digital and Pendergast Elemen-

 tary School District was formally recognized by the National School Boards Association with a 2021 Magna Award, which honors school districts that are advancing equity and breaking down barriers for underserved students. 

With elementary schools in Phoenix, Glendale and Avondale, the Pendergast district was one of only 15 school districts in the United States to be recognized for this award. It was also the only school district in Arizona to be named a winner this year by an independent panel of school board members, administrators and other educators.

Pendergast is a low-socioeconomic school district with 88% diversity on its 12 campuses. Approximately 71% of students in its district receive free/reduced-price meals.

“Pendergast District is known as a highly innovative, solution-oriented district that is focused on student success,” said Dr. Jennifer Cruz, the district’s acting superintendent. 

“We’re always looking for ways to engage students in higher levels of thinking and learning. Because we do not have high school teachers on staff or accredited high school curriculum readily available, the partnership with ASU Prep Digital gives our students an accelerated path and the chance to earn concurrent high school and elementary school credit.”

ASU Prep Digital is an accredited online K-12 school that allows students to take a single online course or enroll in a full-time, diploma-granting program. ASU Prep Digital also serves private schools, single public schools and entire districts nationwide, with innovative partnerships that offer a rigorous K-12 curriculum and one-on-one instruction in a virtual environment. For school districts like Pendergast, ASU Prep Digital helps underserved students advance and get a head start on their high school credits.

Through innovative and individualized digital programs, rigorous coursework and highly supportive learning success coaches from ASU Prep Digital, elementary students attending schools in the Pendergast district not only have had the chance to earn early math and English credits, but they also have access to mentors who teach study skills and organization strategies and promote college and career readiness. 

ASU Prep’s high school teachers provide instruction for high school-level algebra I, geometry and English to identified middle school students. The students take the high school coursework during their regular school day, when other students are doing interventions. The advanced course instruction takes place virtually from each school’s library when the schools are in session in person; due to the pandemic, this instruction is taking place via Zoom.

ASU President Michael Crow is known as a pioneer of online education. Years before the pandemic forced schools and universities to move online, Crow had created a tech-enhanced learning environment at ASU. His decision to begin offering classes online came from the realization that many students with potential were not able to get the opportunity to pursue higher education. He wanted to include a more diverse group of students, cutting across age, culture, socioeconomic status and nationality. Online education presented a new path to achieve that goal.

“ASU Prep Digital has allowed us to partner and advance educational opportunities for thousands of K-12 students who might not have otherwise had access to the courses, credits, mentors and teachers we offer,” Crow said. “We are fully dedicated to the success of students at every stage of their learning career in every community we serve, and we are honored to be recognized by the NSBA for our work with the Pendergast district.”

About 150 middle school students in the Pendergast district participate in the tuition-free program each year. Since 2018, the partnership with ASU Prep Digital has helped to deliver unprecedented results for the district:

• 100% of students participating in geometry passed the course.

• 96% of students participating in algebra I passed the course.

• 90% of students participating in English passed the course.

In addition to taking their assigned grade-level state assessment, participating students have also taken the designated high school end-of-course state assessment (AzMERIT) in algebra I and geometry, which resulted in a 91% pass-rate on these high-stakes assessments.

While COVID-19 has challenged learning across the nation, students participating in Pendergast’s ASU Prep program completed their coursework remotely from home and have continued to outperform many of their unsupported cohorts across the state. To date, the program has helped about 400 students achieve high school credits.

Jacob Bauer is one such student. He enrolled in the program the first year it was available, while attending seventh grade at Garden Lakes Elementary School in Avondale, where he took advanced algebra and geometry classes. 

“Having the one-on-one time with an incredibly supportive ASU teacher who frequently checked in with me outside of class gave me more confidence and a better understanding of technical math concepts,” said Bauer, who is a sophomore at Westview High School. 

“As a freshman, I was taking classes with juniors. As a sophomore, I’m now taking algebra with seniors. Next year, I’ll be taking college-level math classes. It’s not just helping me to get ahead academically; I’m also going to be saving money when I go to college.”

With his sights set on a possible career in engineering, Bauer’s goal is to secure a full-ride scholarship to college.

“ASU Prep Digital’s school partnerships with the Pendergast district and other school districts across the country and around the world are demonstrating how technology is freeing us and creating more opportunities for students,” Crow said. “We are now free to operate and innovate at a scale that none of us even imagined.”

ASU Prep Digital has established partnerships with 110 schools in Arizona and 73 schools in other U.S. states.

For more background about its partnership with the Pendergast District, visit https://bit.ly/3sWhoY1.