Lifestyle

SK online high school not entirely classroom-less

For the most part, students in the online high school can complete their coursework in the comfort and privacy of home. - Courtesy Photo
For the most part, students in the online high school can complete their coursework in the comfort and privacy of home.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

It is called an online program.

But South Kitsap School District’s Internet-based school is more of a hybrid than its peers around the state.

Students take the majority of their classes online, but there are an assortment of subjects for which they still attend the Explorer Academy.

Principal Pat Oster said that is because some classes do not translate as well on the Internet as they do in the classroom.

For example, math classes and science labs for high-school students are taught in the classroom.

All science courses for students from kindergarten through sixth grade also are held on campus.

“It’s still a place to come to and we interact with them face to face,” Oster said. “It honestly can get tough if you’re just doing it at home alone.”

Beyond that, students also are provided with workbooks for a variety of subjects and typically meet with a teacher consultant every other week to review their progress.

“With the little ones, it’s really important that they’re not just sitting at a computer,” said SKSD teacher consultant Barb LaFerriere, who has taught in the district since 1979. “They’re working out of workbooks and using math manipulatives and using magnetic letters and manipulatives with their reading.

While the curriculum is organized online, there are some interactive programs for history, math and science.”

LaFerriere said SKSD began offering online programs during the 2007-08 school year. High-school students were added last year using Advanced Academics as district’s online program.

Oster said about 150 students, who do not pay tuition, are enrolled in the online program from kindergarten through 12th grade. He said that is an increase of between 20-30 students from a year ago.

While the district still is accepting students — most of its room is between kindergarten and sixth grade — Oster said he does not want the program to become huge.

Unlike some other districts that offer online schools, SKSD only accepts students inside its boundaries with few exceptions.

Oster said there are about 10 students in its program that have received waivers from neighboring school districts.

“We want to remain small and focus on family and students,” Oster said. “We’re not a statewide program and we don’t want to be.”

Stephanie Combs, a teacher consultant who is in her third year working with online junior-high students, said smaller class sizes make it “a lot easier for me to get in-depth with the 37 kids I have.” When Combs taught junior high in the district for six years, she said she had between 90-110 students per year.

LaFerriere said many students in the program are undiagnosed, but have displayed Attention Deficit Disorder tendencies.

“That’s why they’re here,” she said. “They weren’t successful in the traditional classrooms.

“The parents are really motivated and really grateful that we have this program. I can share ideas with them how to organize their days.”

All online teachers have access to a student’s progress via the Internet. Assignments that are not completed in time show up in red.

“Parents say that they are part of our program because they want accountability,” LaFerriere said. “They know that I’m accountable to the school district, state and I’m not going to just let them flounder.”

LaFerriere said the online program offers more flexibility than the traditional classroom.

For example, she tested a third-grader last year who read at first-grade level and was able to organize a lesson plan that better suited that student’s skill set.

Combs, citing a student she works with, said the online school can be beneficial for gifted students as well.

“She’s just one of those kids who is brilliant and she needs access to those Advanced Placement classes that we don’t have on campus here,” she said.

But Oster is quick to mention that the online school is not better than a traditional learning setting.

He said it is an alternative that might serve some students better.

And Oster feels the quality of online education has improved through more opportunities in recent years.

Combs said that students in ninth through 12th grade now have access to teachers at any hour through Advanced Academics.

Washington’s Advanced Academics program is based out of Yakima, while the main office is in Oklahoma City.

Through the latter office, Combs said students have one to two teachers available in each subject throughout the night.

She previously said there were no teachers available for West Coast students after 8 p.m.

Unlike South Kitsap High School, which uses a trimester system, ninth- through 12th-graders online are on a six-course semester schedule.

Oster estimated that it costs $4,000 to $5,000 per year to educate those students, but said most of that is covered by the state.

Oster said the state considers students in online and tradition classroom settings the same when it comes to funding.

“We don’t make money on this program,” he said. “In fact, we probably spend a little more than we make as a school district. But it’s a service that we want to provide for our families and students.”

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