Gem Prep: Excellence in Education Made Accessible Anywhere in Idaho  Article

Gem Prep: Excellence in Education Made Accessible Anywhere in Idaho 

If asked what an ideal school should be, many would agree that it should challenge students, create cultures of academic excellence, and inspire children to build a bright future. Yet, how will that vision be achieved for Idaho’s diverse students and families who live in both rural and urban communities across a large, growing state? Finding that answer is the aim of Gem Prep and their educational partners, Bluum and the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

Models of Learning Match Diverse Needs

“The greatest lesson of the school reform movement is there isn’t one school that fits every learner,” explains Dr. Jason Bransford, Gem Prep’s CEO. “We’ve found there isn’t even one Gem Prep school that fits everybody.” 

In an effort to change the status quo, Gem Prep has designed three different models of delivering rigorous K-12 schooling to students throughout Idaho: Gem Prep Online, Learning Societies, and Gem Prep’s brick-and-mortar locations. 

Bransford states, “Our goal would be that anyone who wants a Gem Prep education has access to a Gem Prep education, regardless of what part of the state you live in, regardless of your family dynamics.”

A tuition-free public charter school, Gem Prep Online makes available its intensive college preparatory curriculum to students anywhere in the state with outstanding results. Gem Prep Online students graduate at higher rates and with more college credits than other state online schools. “Gem Prep Online students are the most successful virtual students in the state of Idaho,” asserts Bransford. 

Although Gem Prep Online has seen unprecedented success with its students, not every child has an adult at home every day to scaffold their online instruction, or live near one of the charter’s brick-and-mortar locations. This inspired Gem Prep to develop an innovative network of “Learning Societies” to meet the needs of these students and their families. 

Under the guidance of vetted, qualified, in-person educators and adults, groups of 30-40 students gather in their local communities to participate in Gem Prep Online classes, like a very structured version of a homeschool cooperative. 

Learning Society teacher Lois Bly explains that the lead online teacher has the ability to see the students, their computer screens, and their responses in real-time. This technology allows them to monitor individual progress and understanding of the lesson, as well as to keep students focused and engaged.

Bransford affirms, “In small communities, large communities, and everything in between, access to these learning societies will have a powerful, transformational impact on the families who enroll their children.”

Gem Prep has also garnered a legacy of success with its brick-and-mortar locations in some of the state’s larger communities. There are currently in-person schools serving Idaho students in Meridian, Nampa, Twin Falls, and Pocatello, with new schools in Rexburg and Ammon opening in the near future.  

These Gem Prep locations offer students the same exceptional quality of education, with a plethora of specialized programs, access to advanced courses, and the ability to earn college credits through the Idaho Digital Learning Alliance (IDLA), while allowing students the chance to take part in a peer culture which encourages each student to strive for their best.

Future Successes are Built Today

Envisioning and preparing for future careers is a primary emphasis at Gem Prep. Students begin exploring their options in middle school, tailoring their electives and experiences toward their career path by high school. In addition to taking classes in their areas of interest and shadowing with professionals in their desired field, students can begin earning college credits, at no cost, while still attending high school.

Taking courses taught by college professors also allows Gem Prep students the unique opportunity to develop the fundamental study skills and personal accountability for higher education while still in the more supportive environments of high school and home. Bransford adds, “We want them to learn lessons on how to succeed [in higher education] now, while they are here, not later on.”

The Numbers Tell the Story

The results of the hard work and dedication to academics by the staff and students at Gem Prep are undeniable. In 2023, fifty percent of the graduating class earned their associates degree, in addition to a high school diploma. All graduates earned some college credits, with amazing averages of 46 credits and $36,000 in scholarships per student.

Bransford, extolling the accomplishments of his students, shares that they continually raise the bar of what can be achieved. He feels that part of the magic of Gem Prep is its community of learners who thrive on the attainment of academic excellence. 

Summarizing his hopes for his school, Bransford says, “We want to take every young student and point to those graduates walking across the stage and say, ‘You see what they did? You can do that too…and you might even be able to do more.’”

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