Launching in the Capital City

Savannah WaszczukAccess Launch, District Profiles

The Jefferson City School District first partnered with Launch in spring 2020—today the district utilizes Launch courses in multiple ways to serve nearly 1,000 virtual learners.

When the COVID-19 pandemic proved it was here to stay in spring 2020, school district administrators in Jefferson City picked up the phone and requested a meeting with Launch. “We had already been in communication with other districts on how they were serving virtual students,” says Shelby Scarbrough, Chief of Learning for the Jefferson City School District (JCSD). “As we considered our options, Launch trended to the top of our list because of its commitment to Missouri teachers and learners.” 

Fast forward eight months, and the district is now utilizing Launch in a multitude of ways. The JCSD has both its own teachers of record and Launch teachers of record at the elementary level, and it serves all virtual students at the middle and high school level with Launch courses. In a district of more than 9,000 K-12, this is a large collection of learners. “We have close to 1,000 students enrolled in Launch classes with Launch teachers,” says JCSD Director of Student Information, Planning and Assessments Dawn Berhorst. “We also have more than 125 students in classes with Jefferson City teachers using Launch content.” 

The Decision to Partner

Once COVID-19 sparked JCSD’s initial conversations with Launch, things moved rather quickly. “We needed a way to serve our students for summer school, because we knew we weren’t going to be able to do in-seat,” Scarbrough says. After the Launch and JCSD admin teams had a couple of meetings, the district jumped in full force. 

In addition to having hundreds of students enrolled in summer courses, the district also had multiple teachers instruct Launch classes in June and July. With this came a lot of experiential learning. “We learned a lot about what it takes to become a successful virtual learner during the summer,” Scarbrough says. And while the district will continue to make adjustments and develop processes as it gets more first-hand Launch experience, administrators say they’re grateful for a working relationship. “The Launch team has been extremely responsive,” Scarbrough says. “A lot of last summer—and even the start of this semester—has been spent getting to know one another as districts. We feel like the Launch team truly cares about helping us meet the needs of our parents and students.” 

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Moving to Online Teaching 

Jefferson City teacher Emily Roberts had just put the finishing touches on her Kindergarten classroom when she received a life-changing phone call. “I was asked if I’d like to become an online teacher,” Mrs. Roberts says. To help serve the district’s large number of K-5 learners, multiple Jefferson City teachers were asked to teach Launch content via the program’s content catalog option.

Although Mrs. Roberts was fully prepared to return to the building for the quickly approaching fall 2020 semester, she had spent the summer teaching with Launch and really enjoyed the experience. “I thought, ‘This is awesome,’” Mrs. Roberts says. “I went for it.” After meetings and trainings with a handful of other Jefferson City Launch teachers and the Launch staff, Mrs. Roberts was ready to welcome students back virtually this fall. 

Today Mrs. Roberts instructs her class of 15 kindergarten students from the comfort of her own home. “I honestly don’t feel any different than I did when I was in seat,” Mrs. Roberts says. “I feel a great connection with my students. We know one another’s quirks. I know their struggles. I’ve gotten to know their families. Their families have opened their homes to this.” 

“I do everything I can to build relationships and plan interactions. I think I’ve created an environment where students enjoy coming to their online class each day.”

—Emily Roberts, Jefferson City Launch Teacher

Welcome to the Virtual Classroom

Mrs. Roberts puts extra effort into ensuring all of her students feel connected. “We do a lot of fun and silly things together,” Mrs. Roberts says. “We’ll get up and do yoga together in the morning. We’ll have dance parties, and I’ll read them stories.” For red ribbon week, Mrs. Roberts planned virtual spirit days. “We wore crazy hats one day,” she says. “The next day we came in tie-dye. We’re all wearing our Halloween costumes tomorrow.” 

In addition, Mrs. Roberts also does a handful of things off screen to ensure she creates an engaging online culture. For example, she ships students “happy mail” filled with activities as well as stickers and games. They’ll take a break from learning to color the same picture, or they’ll work on a craft together with items she supplies. “I do everything I can to build relationships and plan interactions,” she says. “I think I’ve created an environment where students enjoy coming to their online class each day.” 

As Mrs. Roberts teaches her virtual class of kindergartners, her 11-year-old daughter, Ava, engages in her own Launch courses while sitting a few rooms away. “I think my very favorite thing about Launch is that I get to stay in my pajamas all day,” Ava says with a laugh. She continues to explain her preference of learning online. “My Launch classes are easy to navigate,” she says. And her mother agrees. “I rarely have to help her,” she says. “I feel like Launch is set up in a way that students can succeed. I see it in Ava’s classes and in my class as well—what Launch has developed is very easy to follow as a teacher, and as a student.”    

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Jefferson City at a Glance

K-12 Enrollment: 9,073
MASA District: West Central
Vision: The Jefferson City Public Schools website states its vision by saying “We will strive to become the premier school district in the state of Missouri as we raise the bar in a culture of high expectations while growing our traditions of pride through excellence.” 
Fun Fact: Housed in Jefferson City, the Missouri State Capitol is now in its third building. The first state capitol building was destroyed by fire in 1837. The second capitol was destroyed by fire on February 5, 1911, when a bolt of lightning struck the dome. The present capitol was built in the period of 1913-1917 and stands high atop a bluff overlooking the Missouri River.

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