Fostering Community and Wellness in an Online High School

October 24, 2017

By Cait Etherington 

Part 3 of a Three-Part Series on Stanford Online High School

Every high school advisor or counsellor deals with unique challenges, but imagine trying to foster a sense of community and general wellness when your student body is based in 46 states and 32 countries around the world. This is precisely the challenge that faces Dr. Tracy Michelle Steele, Stanford Online High School’s Director of Counseling.

“Our student body is very eclectic,” says Steele, “We have students in rural areas who have exhausted the curriculum at their local student and are looking for a challenge. We also have pre-Olympic swimmers and skiers who are training and need a flexible alternative. We have students who are sailing around the world with their families. Some of our students come from diplomat families and are moving with their parents to different posts.” Regardless of a student’s reason for applying, Steele notes that careful attention given to ensuring that the applicant is a good match for the school’s delivery format. This is especially important at the middle school level. “At the middle school level,” she emphasizes, “Every incoming student has an interview with a member of our team.”

Since joining Stanford OHS over seven years ago, Steele has overseen many changes to help support how the school approaches advising: “This was a new experience—when I joined, we were really in start-up mode—but the idea of an online high school certainly now seems much more viable.” Notably, since Steele arrived at Stanford OHS, the school has grown from about 200 students to 750 students. The school has also scaled up its advising department: “When I started, I was doing academic advising, counseling, and even registration. We now have nine advisors supporting about 750—about half of these students are full-time.”

Steele also notes that the Stanford OHS now uses an approach that is typically used on college and university campuses: “We’ve hired people with specific expertise and experience in college admissions to handle college advising and counsellors with a psychology background to address social issues—it is a very specialized staff, which one doesn’t always find at the high school level.”

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