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NMSI Team Goes on a North Dakota Road Trip


Two guys traveled 900 miles in two days across North Dakota. The goal? Increase engagement in online Advanced Placement® courses.

With many small, rural settings, North Dakota schools often don’t have the same AP® classes as places with larger populations. Online courses remove this barrier.

Jim Smithwick, NMSI Program Manager, and Gregg Naranjo, Teaching and Learning Manager, hit the road during the summer to build a rapport with principals, teachers, families and students at seven schools participating in NMSI’s Blended College Readiness Program, which includes online AP courses. Traveling in a “U” shape around the state, the journey started in northeastern North Dakota, continued south to schools along the path through Fargo, then west to Bismark, and ended in the northwest.

“Sitting face-to-face across from people and drinking a cup of coffee helps us answer questions, reassure them and set expectations,” Smithwick says.

One stop along the way was Hebron Public School in a rural community about 60 miles west of Bismark. Jenifer Hosmun, primary and secondary principal of the school, expressed gratitude for the NMSI team's visit, saying the in-person connection makes a big difference and shows NMSI’s investment in the school.

"They know they can reach out to me or Gregg, and we will put them in touch with the people they need to help answer questions," says Smithwick, who now regularly receives phone calls from principals he connected with during the trip.

Students and parents that met with the NMSI team say they want to know someone will be there if they need support. Naranjo explained the guidance students will receive from NMSI Coaches. Working in tandem with online teachers, coaches provide an additional support person for students. Almost all coaches are brick-and-mortar teachers of the AP subject students are taking online. During biweekly check-ins, students and coaches take on any content that may present additional challenges. Coaches provide a different perspective or technique than online teachers, which makes a difference in student performance.

During the school year, students have a NMSI-provided laptop they use for the online courses. Smithwick says every school is encouraged to have a dedicated time during the school day when online AP students can complete their coursework as they do for in-person classes.

Following up on the connections made over the summer, the two NMSI team members met with about 30 students at St. Mary’s Central High School in Bismark in November to see how they’re doing in the online courses. Most students shared that they prefer to know what content they should complete each week in the online course rather than a completely open-ended format. At the same time, they’re interested in having access to online work ahead of time so they can plan to complete work in advance if they have a sports event or other activity coming up. Using this feedback, Smithwick says NMSI will connect with its online coursework partners to make adjustments that work for students.  

Also in November, Smithwick and Naranjo met with representatives from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, who say they are ready to help NMSI expand the Blended College Readiness Program in the state. 

Interested in learning more about NMSI's Blended College Readiness Program? Contact us