Intermediate Unit 1: Building Online Learning Options for 21st-century Students

For educators in Fayette, Greene, and Washington counties, “CSI” isn’t about crime detection. It stands for Intermediate Unit 1’s Cyber Solutions Initiative, a customized approach that lets learners take online classes while remaining enrolled in their home districts.
“For today’s students, technology is a fact of life, waking them up in the morning and seeing them through every aspect of their days,” says Charles Mahoney, IU 1’s executive director and a former school superintendent. “It makes sense to capitalize on their comfort with technology and apply it to their educational pursuits.”
Through CSI, member districts stay in close touch with cyber students, assuring their engagement in classwork and providing on-the-spot assistance. Fewer students are dropping out of school, and graduation rates are improving because students in danger of falling irretrievably behind can easily recover credits.
CSI began in 2011, when local districts informed IU 1 of their need of offer cost-effective, customized online classes without starting cyber charter schools. IU 1 consulted with Westmoreland IU 7 about its eAcademy program. After weighing various options, IU1 chose to develop its own cyber platform. CSI grew from six participating districts to 11 by 2016, with more coming on board.
With comprehensive support from IU 1, CSI now offers a rich catalog of core-subject courses and electives. A partnership with Penn State University will bring college-prep STEM-related courses online in 2014-15. Students can choose courses from their own district or another consortium member.
CSI has grown and adapted, going from 40 students in September 2011 to more than 2,000 total served as of September 2016. Some students take just one or two classes while others enroll full-time. Injured, ill or even expelled students continue their schooling without interruption. One student competes as a semi-pro snowboarder. Many students take jobs in natural gas fields without sacrificing their studies.    
“We designed CSI to be flexible, so it can be adjusted as needed,” says IU 1 Assistant Executive Director Don Martin. “We stay relevant in the eyes of students and families by remaining dynamic and evolving as we move forward.”

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