For many middle and high school students across the nation, the holiday breaks are a much-anticipated stretch of fun and relaxation. A time when books stay firmly stowed in book bags or lockers until after the new year while kids enjoy their freedom from studying.

But that’s not necessarily the case at Ingenuity Charter School, where roughly half of the students take advantage of school’s unique opportunity to get caught up – and even get ahead – on their semester credits by working through the holiday breaks.

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Ingenuity’s main focus is always to provide as much in-depth information about our program as possible so students and families can make more educated choices about their choice for school enrollment. We enroll students on a continuous basis.

Stephen Shilling, one of Ingenuity’s four instructors, said that for students who are trying to catch up to graduate, or graduate early, the chance to work through the holiday breaks is as great as found money.

“If a student chose to work through all of our school year breaks, including three- and four-day weekends, they could earn 2-3 more credits a year than they would otherwise,” Shilling said.

Photo courtesy of Ingenuity Charter School
Photo courtesy of Ingenuity Charter School

Since each semester class equals one credit in the San Diego school district, 2-3 credits would equate to 2-3 classes, which is about one-quarter of the school year.

“That’s pretty significant,” Shilling said. “I’ve even witnessed motivated, committed students complete one and a half years of school in one year’s time by working through breaks.”

However, Shilling added, such a feat proves difficult because Ingenuity’s curriculum is very demanding. “It’s certainly no cake-walk, but that’s a good thing. Students should be challenged by their work, challenged to think and problem solve.”

Ingenuity’s blended learning curriculum, which combines face-to-face and online study, is what makes working through holiday breaks possible. While brick-and-mortar schools are closed, Ingenuity’s online instruction platform, called Edgenuity, is available 24/7.

“As long as a student has access to the internet, through their laptop, phone, or tablet, they can complete their assignments and tests,” Shilling said.

Photo courtesy of  Ingenuity Charter School
Photo courtesy of Ingenuity Charter School

The Edgenuity online learning component is critical to the success of many Ingenuity students because of numerous extenuating circumstances. For instance, some students suffer from severe health issues, ranging from significant sleep difficulties to cancer, or are in transient home situations that would prevent them from achieving in a traditional school environment.

Yet Shilling emphasizes that the other part of the blended learning program – face-to-face interaction – is equally important.

In terms of academics, face-to-face interaction at Ingenuity means regular in-person mentorship and coaching. “We schedule 2-3 weekly appointments with our students for tutoring time and relationship building. Plain cyber doesn’t cut it,” Shilling said. “The relationships we develop one-on-one with the students and their families generate feelings of safety and show them that someone cares about them. They know someone’s there who will push them to do their best.”

Ingenuity students can also develop in-person relationships with their fellow students through CIF sports with The O’Farrell Charter School’s teams. As long as they meet academic eligibility requirements, they’re free to participate in O’Farrell’s athletic teams that include basketball, soccer, volleyball, track, and cross-country. This is important because it allows students to stay in touch with group dynamics and learn to manage teamwork and team-building efforts.

But ultimately, the responsibility to sink or swim at Ingenuity lies with the student. “One of the first things a student will say to me is, ‘Can I graduate on time?’” Shilling said. “And I’ll tell them honestly that it depends on how hard they want to work. That gives them a sense of empowerment. I set a tailored, game plan to help them. But they know that in the end, they can’t thank – or blame – anyone but themselves.”

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