Beaver Valley IU 27: Regional Choice Initiative Tears Down School District Boundaries

More than sixty students in three years study Mandarin Chinese from a Pittsburgh career school -- without leaving their Beaver County high schools. Seniors with no discernible post-graduation plans see new prospects when they ace college-level courses. A home-schooled student who can't afford college enrolls in his local high school and joins Junior ROTC at a neighboring school - and earns a full Naval scholarship to Penn State.

Beaver Valley Intermediate Unit 27 is blurring school district boundaries and promoting resource sharing that broadens course offerings - and horizons - for students in Beaver County's 14 public school districts and neighboring Lawrence County's Ellwood City Area School District. BVIU's Regional Choice Initiative started with a U.S. Department of Education Voluntary Public School Choice Grant, awarded in 2007 to 14 entities nationwide.

The program's four elements expand options in public schooling:

Open seats: Seventh through 12th graders can fill available slots, physically or electronically, in courses that aren't available in their home schools but are offered at other schools.

Dual enrollment: Every Beaver County high school offers dual enrollment with a twist. All students - not just the academic stars - can take courses taught by college professors, and a high school teacher is on hand at all times for support.

Cyberschooling: Every Beaver County high school has two videoconferencing units. Teachers build dynamic, rigorous courses, and they work directly on documents with students over Elluminate, an interactive webinar software.

Academies for Success: The urgency to motivate students helps drive RCI. BVIU worked with Ambridge Area High School to expand JROTC membership to non-district students, who spend the entire academic day at Ambridge while still participating in their home schools' activities. Future academies could introduce students to career possibilities in STEM and other fields.

Nearly 900 students participated in RCI in 2011-12, up from 181 the first year. Principals who once saw each other only as sports rivals now "have each other on speed dial," says Marianne LeDonne, BVIU's RCI Director.

"They used to think that their kids were just their own kids," says LeDonne. "Now, when a student walks through their door from a neighboring district or they turn on a videoconference from a far site, their students are every student in this county and Ellwood City, and they can say with great pride that those are their students."

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