Why We Launch: Rockwood

Savannah WaszczukWhy We Launch

While it’s home to some of the largest schools in St. Louis and among the largest systems in the state, the Rockwood School District works to meet the individualized needs of each of its 20,000+ learners. Last summer, the district began using Launch to help meet this mission.

Lafayette. Marquette. Eureka. Rockwood Summit. Every day, thousands of students walk the halls of these prestigious Rockwood high schools, and the St. Louis district’s administrative team has the same mission for each and

 every one of them: to do whatever it takes to ensure they realize their potential. Once the students believe in their abilities, the district then works to provide the resources and support needed for student success. “We’ve put a real emphasis in trying to find individual supports for students to try and reach their individual needs,” says Dr. Shelley Willott, Rockwood School District’s Executive Director of Learning and Support Services. And this is one of the exact reasons the district partnered with Launch in summer 2018. “Launch really provides another tool in our toolkit to work with kids,” Dr. Willott says.

While Dr. Willott works on the district level, this mission is also very much alive in each of the district’s buildings. At Lafayette High School, Dr. Julia Spurgeon’s classroom trades desks and whiteboards for cozy couches and a sound machine. The room was created to be inviting and relaxing for select learners—a sort of retreat for students who have specific learning needs. “I’m the Student Restore Facilitator,” says Dr. Spurgeon, who has worked for Rockwood for 26 years. “A lot of people ask us, ‘What is student restore?’ My answer is that we put programming around all different kinds of students. Acceleration, students needing credit recovery, students needing credit acquisition.”

As Dr. Spurgeon serves the needs of multiple types of students, she often looks to Launch to aid her instruction. “Launch has really been a blessing to our learning environment,” Dr. Spurgeon says. Many Lafayette High School students take Launch courses to build more flexibility into their seated schedules, and others use it to recover credits. Regardless of the situation, Dr. Spurgeon talks to each student enrolled, and she’s always there to motivate them along the way. “We partner for blended learning with Launch,” Dr. Spurgeon says. “When you combine all of it, it provides options that I wish we would have had years ago for students.” Dr. Karen Calcaterra, the principal at Lafayette High School, shares a similar passion for meeting kids where they’re at. “One of my driving points in offering online classes—and specifically utilizing Launch to meet the needs of our students—is that I know no two learners are the same,” Dr. Calcaterra says.

Michael and Matthew Countryman, twin brothers who are in their senior years at Lafayette, are both enrolled in an AP Launch literature course. “I like to work a lot faster than what’s usually found in the classroom environment,” says Michael, who plans to attend Missouri S&T and study computer science after graduation. “The experience so far is very positive, as I don’t have to work with the classroom around me—I can work at my own pace.” His brother agrees. “If I need to work on anything at home, I can work on things at home,” says Matthew, who plans to study engineering at Purdue or Missouri S&T. “Being able to plan through my entire semester, pretty much from the start, is very nice.”

Classmate Kathryn Gluesenkamp, who is a senior and very involved with the ROTC program, took Launch’s government course to build flexibility into her schedule. “I’m the commander of the unit, so I spend 17.5 hours a week doing ROTC work,” she says. “Sometimes I need to change my schedule. I can do my government course when I get home, because assignments are usually due at 11:59.” Dr. Spurgeon saw the ability to take a Launch course help Glusenkamp. “You couldn’t believe the stress it took off of her,” Dr. Spurgeon says.

Also a senior, Melissa Campbell is enrolled in a Launch credit recovery course. “Launch compared to sitting in a classroom is very different,” Melissa says. “You’re not just sitting there waiting for the teacher to tell you what to do—it’s right there in front of you. It’s what you want it to be, basically. Like your own little classroom.” And it’s students like Melissa who are perhaps the most appreciative. “The students in credit recovery are grateful,” Dr. Spurgeon says. “You can watch their minds—they’re getting second chances. They feel successful, and with each milestone that they do in their modules, it’s a celebration.”

As long as Rockwood students continue to take Launch courses to meet their individualized needs, the district is happy to continue to learn from and grow with the program. “This has been a real eye opener for us,” Dr. Willott says. “There was a lot of fear around online coursework—that it might not be rigorous enough, that it might not engage kids—and Launch has really proven that to be not the case. I think that we’re feeling more comfortable about it all the time.”
Rockwood at a Glance
K-12 Enrollment: 21,744
Number of High Schools: 4 high schools & 1 Individualized Learning Center
MASA District: Greater St. Louis
Mission: “We do whatever it takes to ensure all students realize their potential.”
Vision: “By continuously improving every aspect of our performance, the Rockwood School District empowers students to command their future.”