Arra Yerganian of Laurel Springs School: 5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve The US Educational System
Flexibility and Customizable Education: The pandemic reinforced what some of us have known all along: one size does not fit all when it comes to learning. Giving students more ownership over their own education gives them the permission to invest their time and energy into their passions and interests outside of school.
As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system, I had the pleasure to interview Arra Yerganian.
Arra G. Yerganian, an accomplished executive and brand architect with extensive experience driving growth in sector-leading companies, is the President of Laurel Springs School, the first US-based online school. Based in San Jose, California, Yerganian has been widely recognized for his innovative work in the healthcare and higher education industries, having previously served in executive roles with companies including Tivity Health (Nasdaq: TVTY), Sutter Health, One Medical, and University of Phoenix. Yerganian also serves as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board at Boston University’s School of Public Health.
Can you share the backstory behind what brought you to this particular career path?
I have a deep-rooted, lifelong love for, and commitment to, education. It is the true equalizer for many. My Dad was a collegiate-level educator for more than 50 years and a mentor to so many. As a result of his wholehearted belief in the value of education, I was fortunate enough to attend and graduate from one of the best public schools in the nation, Boston Latin School. From seventh grade through graduation I was challenged, inspired, and influenced by some of the finest teachers in America. During those formative years, I experienced the value of learning how to learn and ultimately the powerful impact a great foundation would have on my life. I fondly recall the only bumper sticker ever on my father’s car. It simply said, ‘If you think education is expensive, consider ignorance.’
Throughout the years, I’ve been involved in the ‘business’ of education. While serving as the Chief Marketing Officer at the University of Phoenix, my focus was connecting education with careers for our 300,000 active students and 500,000 alumni. As a result, more students graduated with more skills, landed more rewarding jobs, and grew their careers. It was rewarding to help change the direction or enhance their career. Later, I served on the executive committee of Rocketship Schools, one of the nation’s premier charter school systems. I currently have the honor of serving on the Dean’s Advisory Board at Boston University’s School of Public Health, something I’ve enjoyed for the past few years. Today, I lead Laurel Springs School, the first accredited K-12 online school. Its powerful mission inspires me every single day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Working with kids I get to witness so many powerful, life-altering moments that education provides — “interesting” and “inspiring “ is practically a daily occurrence.
However, the true hallmark of my career, and what brings me tremendous joy, is mentoring. As my father mentored, so do I. I’m deeply proud of the success of those I have hired, developed, and subsequently watched achieve great things.
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Arra: When you mentor, you are choosing to make a personal investment in time to get to know someone, to understand who they are, their backstory, if you will. It’s an ongoing commitment to give them an opportunity to share, reflect, and dream. This invested time, early in a mentoring relationship, delivers immeasurable success. Always.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now?
At Laurel Springs School, we are finding ways to expand and innovate our approach to education, and give our students the most immersive remote learning experience possible.
Laurel Springs is already the leading self-paced, mastery-based online education approach, but there are exciting ways that we plan on offering more for students. We’ve signed partnerships to expand our curriculum to new audiences, and new projects will continue to push Laurel Springs forward.
How do you think that will help people?
Our approach to education allows students to learn at their own pace, master the work they are focusing on prior to moving to the next level within their studies, and get greater satisfaction from their academic experience. It’s the flexibility that everyone adores about our programming, and we’ll continue to improve that programming.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority in the education field?
As a student, parent, observer, and leader in a global online school, I’ve gained experience and knowledge that helps me think through and design a best-in-class experience for the parents and students I serve.
From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?
The US education system has done an outstanding job of filling multiple roles in society, evolving and changing to ensure our children are exposed to coursework that will help them find success in life. However, that system was tested when the pandemic began, necessitating remote learning when stay-at-home orders were in place.
There was a tremendous strain on the system, as so many districts struggled with the fully remote infrastructure on the fly. I’ve heard from educators who are glad things are “returning to normal” as in-person learning resumes, but the system has to be prepared with contingency plans in case circumstances necessitate a return to remote learning or if there are students who benefit from the remote education environment.
Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?
- Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Curriculum: Now more than ever we are seeing a rise in states across the country beginning to adopt and require SEL programming as part of their curriculum. Studies have shown how valuable this curriculum can be on a students academic performance, mental health, and the relationships with their families, teachers, and peers. By providing students with the tools and resources they need to foster a stronger sense of self, we can better prepare them to enter adulthood and the workforce.
- Access to Technology: Technology makes it easier for like-minded students and families around the world to connect and design an education that better fits within their lives. It empowers students to lean into the learning style that works best for them and allows them to spend more time mastering a subject as they are able to revisit lessons whenever they want and need.
- STEM-focused Learning: Successful STEM programming gives students the hands-on experience they need to identify their interests and passions without limitations. We are often so focused on asking children what they want to be when they grow up, but we need to share the spectrum with them and show them what’s possible. At Laurel Springs, our STEM learning exposes students to career introduction courses, and teaches students the problem solving skills they’ll need to be successful leaders in the advancement of our future.
- Flexibility and Customizable Education: The pandemic reinforced what some of us have known all along: one size does not fit all when it comes to learning. Giving students more ownership over their own education gives them the permission to invest their time and energy into their passions and interests outside of school.
- More Options and Educational Opportunities: Traditionally your main choice was to enroll your child into the school identified by your home address. With more online schooling options available, parents are given the chance to find an education that better suits their lifestyle. Not to mention students have more access to a wider range of subjects and courses to choose from. We created a pay-as-you-go single course model that gives a chance for students to do more and choose additional supplemental education courses.
Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?
- Access to the Internet. During the pandemic, the necessary, but unexpected change from in-person schooling to online school left many children without the means or access to a critical resource for learning — the internet. There were pictures of kids sitting outside of fast-food restaurants trying to do their homework because they did not have access to the web. The internet is as much an integral service as electricity and water.
- Design for Digital. In many cases curriculum design is simply taking pages of information and putting them online — this was especially true during the pandemic. We have a better understanding of how we can learn through digital devices and K-12 education has the opportunity to innovate and create better engagement and results through designing digital-first interactions for students.
- Begin with the End in Mind. Educational paths should be taken into account at a much earlier age. Why should children wait until they get into college to pursue their passions? If a child loves science then there should be a recognized, approved path for them to follow that allows for the emphasis on their science studies, but supplements with aligned courses to their chosen “major” in K-12. In addition, students are exposed to career skills earlier, and there is more opportunity to inform their major decisions as collegiate students.
- Focus on the Student, Not the Test. Each child learns differently and shows a passion for various subjects as they go through their educational experience. In most cases, children do not have the ability to be assessed as individual learners, but rather a median number in a large class. Mastery-based education allows for a true focus on the individual learner and their understanding and comprehension of the subject matter. The assessment of that learner is not a bell curve of testing, but rather a demonstration of the subject and their knowledge.
- Limitless Learning. An asynchronous learning environment provides students with the ability to better match their education to their learning style. By being able to access their curriculum from anywhere at any time, they are given the opportunity to work at their own pace, revisit their materials as needed, foster accountability, and spend time pursuing other passions. This aids in the student’s mastery of a subject and improves the quality of life for those who don’t fit within the confines of a traditional brick and mortar environment. With more flexibility and ownership over their education, students are able to follow their natural curiosity and invest in extracurricular activities that will better prepare them for their higher education and ultimately the workforce.
How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
Arra: Huge area of opportunity! It’s important to bring these academic disciplines to the forefront of the education experience as it teaches skills like problem solving, analytical thinking, and the ability to work independently. There are a few ways to increase the engagement, but I think three easy-to-implement ideas would be:
- Incorporate STEM professionals in curriculum development, networking with STEM companies to identify what skills or talents are important to the STEM career path.
- Offer more hands-on opportunities including practical applications of the STEM careers, whether that’s touring local companies, allowing for “career days” or talks by local professionals in these disciplines.
- Share resources for students to pursue STEM-related supplementary education, there are dozens of great resources available for gifted students or those who want to learn more about these great disciplines.
Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?
Arra: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics previously projected that STEM jobs are expected to grow 8.0 percent by 2029, compared with 3.7 percent for all occupations, so we’ll need girls and women in these roles. It’s important that all students are able to pursue their passions, and I believe there’s a great opportunity for young women of today to defy the preconceived notions and biases against women in STEM roles.
How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
Arra: There is this bias that many STEM jobs are predominantly jobs for men because of the lack of diversity in these careers. However, I think there’s a great opportunity for women to fill these roles, and to encourage female students to pursue these careers.
- Earlier exposure in the classroom and laboratory environments
- Exposure to more clubs, field trips, and real live activities that show how STEM can be fun and interesting.
- Internship opportunities for high school age girls where they can get real world exposure to various fields of interest.
As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate on whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?
At Laurel Springs, we encourage students to pursue their passions, whether they’re interested in becoming an artist, scientist or star football player. Especially at a young age, students should be exposed to all fields, allowing the individual to explore and choose a path that’s most interesting to them. Our philosophy is to give the students the tools and flexibility they need to pursue their passions, while offering them the chance to further explore their academic interests.
If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure, what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Enable schools to teach more broadly in a mastery-based fashion.
- Give students and parents a choice to select more online options, even in the form of supplemental single courses from prestigious online schools.
- Enable students to have more free time to pursue extracurricular passions like sports, dance, music, and additional academic pursuits.
- Provide students an opportunity to do more hands-on learning; on their terms and at their own pace.
- Expose students to exemplary individuals from a variety of backgrounds; scientists, explorers, pioneers, entrepreneurs, philanthropists. Do this through regular interactive sessions in a planned and systematic way through their academic institution.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Arra: “Smart work plus desire equals success.” Since I’ve been a young man, I’ve lived by this mantra and it’s helped me navigate through complex challenges while remaining focused.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports, and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Arra: Elon Musk. He continuously challenges the status quo, asks “why not?,” inspires the world through innovation, and always remains unpredictable.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Arra: via LinkedIn [https://www.linkedin.com/in/arrayerganian], @Tonkazona
This was truly meaningful! Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise!
Arra Yerganian of Laurel Springs School: 5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve The US Educational… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.