With the proliferation of computers, educational websites and a host of Internet resources a mouse click away, attending class with 32 other kids in a brick-and-mortar building is certainly not the only way to go to school.
Virtual schools have altered the popular notion of “home schooling,” with the image of Mom and the kids sitting around the kitchen table surrounded by books and papers.
More and more today, students who don’t attend a traditional school are logging on to their computer instead. Combining traditional homeschooling with taking classes online, or combining taking classes in a physical classroom with some online courses too – called the “blended learning model,” is also becoming more popular in public and private schools.
The number of students enrolled in virtual schools nationwide grew to about 250,000 in 2010-2011 compared to 40,000-50,000 a decade ago, according to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Families choose virtual schooling for a variety of reasons: to accommodate a heavy schedule of extracurricular classes or special interests; to accommodate a child’s health issues or family situation; or because parents believe their children’s needs are better served outside a traditional classroom.
If you’re looking for a flexible, at-home, virtual schooling experience with local support, the Southern California Online Academy, a new virtual school operated by the Lake Elsinore Unified School District, is one option.
K-12 students who live in Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, San Diego and Imperial counties can enroll in the academy, a free public school accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
The academy is currently enrolling students for the 2012-13 school year, the virtual school’s second year in operation.
“We have an opportunity to learn new things and digitalize learning,” said Ryan Mulvanny, a technology integration expert and teacher who is the academy’s principal.
The school had 409 students for its first year, most of them from Riverside County. Several middle school students and some autistic students opted for the virtual school to avoid bullying and other social pressures, Mulvanny said, adding that there are two special education teachers. The academy also allows people pursuing acting, dancing, sports or other entertainment-oriented careers to log on at odd hours, he said.
“The initial goal was 100. They kept coming in,” said Mulvanny, whose first-grade daughter is a student. Mulvanny said his daughter loved art and studied German too – both subjects in which she would have had little or no instruction at the public school in Menifee where the family lives.
In the lower grades, parents have to provide a high level of support for their children but by high school, students are more independent, Mulvanny said. Students get individualized programs and can earn an accredited diploma through the Lake Elsinore district. The school provides all the books and educational resources, and tracks students’ time online.
Highly qualified, specifically credentialed teachers provide instruction, tutorials and supplemental learning aids for students who can access instruction 24/7 from anywhere they can get online. And if a parent or student needs to talk to a human or get more help, they can contact teachers through email, web-conferencing and in person at the school building in Lake Elsinore.
Classes are offered in seven core areas (Language Arts/English, Math, Science, History, World Languages, Art and Music). High school students can take honors or Advanced Placement classes as well from a course catalog that offers more than 60 courses.
The Temecula Valley and Murrieta Valley Unified School Districts also offer online, home school and independent study programs for students living in their districts only. They include TVUSD’s Rolling Hills Academy (a K-8 home school), Susan H. Nelson High School (independent study) and the new Temecula Advantage Virtual School, which opens this fall for students in grades 6-12. Murrieta runs the Tenaja Canyon Academy independent study program for K-12 students, and the Temecula-based River Springs Charter School offers a blend of home schooling, in-class and online courses for K-12 students in the region.
Amy Bentley is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.
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