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New ASU online school integrates high school, university courses

New ASU Prep online school will integrate high school, university courses.
January 24, 2017

ASU Prep Digital to offer Cambridge curriculum, accelerated degree path to remove barriers to higher education

Arizona State University is bridging the divide between high school and college with the new ASU Prep Digital High School, which will allow students to learn at their own pace and potentially accelerate the time it takes to earn a degree.

“This is truly a unique model that integrates high school through university, which is not something that currently exist in in the online space,” said Beatriz Rendon, vice president of Educational Outreach and CEO of ASU Preparatory Academies.

“It will be high engagement, and content will be adapted based on the pace of the learner.

“A lot of what’s out there in the online space is credit recovery, not college-going,” Rendon added. “The integration is the innovation in this model.”

The online school will join the network of ASU Prep charters, which include campuses in Casa Grande, Mesa and downtown Phoenix, with more than 2,000 total students.

Students can enroll in ASU Prep Digital High School full or part time, but the school also plans to partner with existing schools to fill in gaps — for example, providing advanced math or science classes that some schools can’t offer. In this way, ASU Prep Digital will be able to help more students become college-eligible.

The school will use the Cambridge International Curriculum, a rigorous and popular qualification system around the world. Students can achieve the Cambridge International General Certificate Secondary Education, potentially earning college credit based on their exam performance. ASU Prep Digital students can take Spanish, Latin or Mandarin. Students who are prepared can take ASU Online courses, including Human Origins or astronomy, to earn credit. Each student will be assigned a learning success coach and can participate in ASU experiences.

Julie Young
Julie Young is the deputy vice president and CEO of the new ASU Prep Digital High School.

The goal is to get students ready for their next step, according to Julie Young, the newly named deputy vice president and CEO of ASU Prep Digital High School.

“One of the things we’re most excited about is there’s such a focus on the opportunity to really prepare students in a very specific way for college and career,” she said.

Young has been involved with digital education since 1996, when access to the internet was via dial-up. She was the founding president and CEO of Florida Virtual Schools, which was the first online school district in that state.

“Initially, there was not a market for virtual education,” she said. “We had to convince parents, teachers and schools that this could be a high-quality way for a student to learn.”

Young spent a lot of time talking to students about their needs and asked schools to provide her with students to pilot a curriculum. The schools sent her 77 white male students who were already taking AP computer science and math.

“I like to say they gave us the kids they knew we couldn’t hurt,” said Young, whose school grew from those 77 to 2 million students in 50 states and 67 countries.

The biggest lesson she has learned is that all students can benefit from online courses.

“At the beginning, we really felt like there was going to be a certain type of student this would work for ,and we would have to screen the students and test them to make sure they were at a level to be successful,” said Young, who also worked as a classroom teacher and elementary school administrator.

“What we know now is that there are so many types of students that virtual education is appropriate for — students who are accelerated who don’t want to wait for the rest of the class to catch up, and those who are behind who need more time. If we can give them time to catch up without peer pressure or the pressure of the calendar, they wake up and say ‘I’m not stupid. I just need more time to learn this concept.’" 

James Rund, senior vice president of Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU, said that Young will bring a mastery of personalized learningAlso on the ASU Prep Digital High School team as national advisers are John Bailey, a former program officer with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Michael Horn, chief strategy officer with Entangled Ventures and co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a nonprofit think tank. . “At ASU, we share Julie’s sense of urgency to reinvent educational models and provide access to learning for every student when and where they need it," he said.

Young said she’s eager to prepare students for a changing world.

“I’m excited about ASU’s vision to make an impact on the community and the fact they see the world as their community. One of the things I think our country needs more than anything right now in this global society, is to understand each other.

“We have an opportunity for that through virtual education, connecting cultures and communities around the globe.”

For more information about ASU Prep Digital High School and to enroll, visit

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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#CareEnough at ASU West expected to be largest youth conference ever in Arizona.
Social media has potential to do both harm and good, says ASU expert.
January 24, 2017

Valley youth will be asked for their ideas and solutions; here, two ASU faculty share their insights into social media and suicide risk

Following a murder-suicide last year involving two suburban Phoenix high school students, it became apparent that there had been warning signs on social media that went unnoticed.

Hoping to make something positive of the tragedy, organizers of the inaugural #CareEnough to Get in the Way Conference, set to take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday on ASU’s West campus, are calling on Valley youth to share ideas and solutions for creating safer environments by addressing issues such as bullying, cyberbullying and depression.

“We believe this student-driven program model has the potential to make a real difference, and can eventually be implemented state-wide,” organizers said in a statement.

The event, expected to be the largest youth conference ever held in Arizona, is being sponsored by ASU West.

To get an expert’s perspective on some of the issues, ASU Now chatted with two New College professors: Perla VargasPerla Vargas is an associate professor of psychology in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at ASU's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. and Deborah HallDeborah Hall is an assistant professor of psychology in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at ASU's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences., who together have extensive experience researching the intersections of depression, bullying and the internet.

ASU prof
Perla Vargas

Question: Have rates of depression among adolescents gone up in recent years? What about rates of suicide?

Vargas: The estimated prevalence of depression for adults aged 18 to 25 is 9.3 percent.

The trends for depression for the 18- to 25-year-old group have been relatively stable from 2011 to 2014, but the prevalence for the 12- to 17-year-old group increased, from 9.1 percent in 2011 to 11.4 percent in 2014, with female adolescents having three times higher prevalence than males (17.3 percent vs. 5.7 percent).

About one-third of those with a diagnosis of major depression might be classified as severe. Of those with severe depression, approximately one-third report some suicidal behaviors (thoughts/plans), and approximately 10 percent report an attempt.

A worldwide study shows that the risk of first onset of suicide ideation increases sharply during adolescence and young adulthood; the 18-to-25 age group has the highest percentage of suicidal thoughts (7.5 percent) compared to the 26-and-older group.

ASU prof
Deborah Hall

Q: Do you know of any role that social media and the internet might play in rates of depression and suicide among adolescents?

Hall: Given that victims of cyberbullying may feel as though they’re unable to escape the bullying, that the “damage” is already done after a photo or video has been shared, or that they have no control over who witnesses the bullying and for how long the harmful information is available online, there is certainly the potential for heightened levels of depression and suicidality among victims of cyberbullying, in particular.

Interestingly, social media and the internet also have the potential to provide victims of cyberbullying (and traditional forms of bullying) with social support and access to critical resources for coping with depression and suicidal thoughts.

With increased awareness of cyberbullying, I am hopeful that the power of social media can be used to help combat the psychological consequences of all forms of bullying.

Q: What’s the difference between regular bullying and cyberbullying? Is one worse than the other?

Hall: There are a number of ways in which cyberbullying differs from more traditional, face-to-face forms of bullying.

For a victim, cyberbullying can be much more pervasive and seemingly permanent. Children and adolescents spend increasing amounts of time online and interacting through social media.

Whereas traditional bullying is typically limited to situations in which a bully can interact with a victim face-to-face — during the school day and on school grounds, for example — cyberbullying can take place at any time of day, and when the bully and victim are at home.

In other words, with cyberbullying there is no safe time or space.

Because an embarrassing photo or movie or degrading social media post can be shared instantly with a limitless number of peers, the victim has no control over who might witness the bullying or for how long embarrassing information may be accessible online.

Another difference between traditional bullying and cyberbullying is with respect to the perpetrators.

The perceived anonymity of online interactions can lead people to behave in ways that they would never behave in an actual face-to-face interaction. A basic example of this can be found in the “comments” section of just about any news article or blog post.

The degree of negativity is overwhelming, in large part, because people don’t feel personally accountable for their actions when online.

Online anonymity sets the stage for a broader range of children and teens to bully others and, as a result, there are interesting research findings to suggest that victims of cyberbullying are also somewhat more likely to report having cyberbullied others.

Although the research findings are mixed, the proportion of male vs. female adolescents who engage in cyberbullying seems to differ from gender-based patterns for traditional bullying — with some studies finding that female children and teens are more likely to engage in cyberbullying than in traditional forms of bullying.

Q: Is it common for adolescents who are depressed or contemplating suicide to display warning signs?

Vargas: Having a psychiatric diagnosis (i.e., ADHD, anxiety, substance use, depression, etc.) is the most common risk factor for suicide, particularly severe depression.

Fortunately, even in those cases, the probability of actual suicide is relatively low but remained about the same (higher among 45- to 64-year-olds), with some geographical variations (worst in the Western U.S.).

Q: What are some red flags of suicidal tendencies that friends, family and school administrators can look out for?

Vargas: Researchers talk about suicidal behaviors or suicidality, which include having suicidal thoughts, making a plan, conducting an attempt and finally completing it. It is not perfectly linear, but tends to escalate.

There are three times more suicide attempts by females than males.

Suicide deaths for males are 3.4 times higher than for females, probably because of the methods used.

There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.

Something to look out for when concerned that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors. This is of sharpest concern if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, loss or change.

Most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do.

Q: What should someone do if they think they’ve witnessed a warning sign?

Vargas: Trust your instinct; if you feel your friend sounds weird, stay with them, talk with them and check on them. Take it seriously and get them professional help if needed, such as that which is available through ASU Counseling Services or their 24-hour crisis hotline: 480-921-1006. You can also check out these pages on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website: Risk Factors and Warning Signs and Talk Saves Lives: An Introduction to Suicide Prevention.

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657