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Grade school, high school students gravitate towards online schools as offerings expand

Published: Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 08:09

Charter Online Arizona Connections Academy

College Times • Ryan A. Ruiz

Josiah Grimes attended Arizona Connections Academy, allowing to focus on his gymnastics work.


Classrooms are changing but it's not surprising. Students are being proactive about their education and they're not waiting for the school bell to ring.

Seventeen million pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students in the US will get at least some of their education virtually by 2015, according to new research from Ambient Insight. More than four million of these students will get their entire educations virtually, from full-time online schools.

For some K-12 students, going to a classroom for eight hours a day, five days a week is impractical and unmanageable due to extracurricular athletics or other careers.

ASU freshman Josiah Grimes recently graduated from Arizona Connections Academy (ACA), an online public charter school. Josiah transferred from Tempe Preparatory Academy to ACA his junior year in order to reach his gymnastics goals.

"I looked [online schools] up myself because my schedule was really trying and I wasn't able to make progress in gymnastics or my school because they both got in the way of each other," he said.

Josiah has been in gymnastics since he was 4 years old and he hasn't stopped since. Gymnastics is a year-round sport and requires consistent practice. Josiah was putting in 30 training hours a week and began finding it hard to juggle gymnastics with school.

 "I was only getting like four hours of sleep. If I wasn't tired at school, I would be tired in the gym," he said.

Josiah says his grades were suffering, as well. Once Josiah enrolled in ACA, he decided to block his schedule so that he could get through a single subject in two weeks.

"That's how my brain works. It's faster if I can just focus on one subject and just get that done and move on," he said.

The flexibility of it all helped Josiah raise his grades and graduate on time. He did not receive a GED or certificate, but an actual high school diploma.

GONE VIRTUAL

Virtual school can offer the same lessons of a traditional brick and mortar school, but it puts the student in charge.

A typical day for Josiah in high school included waking up early for work for a few hours, coming home to do school work, hitting the gym in the afternoon and coming home around 9 p.m. This would change depending on the day and whether he had to go out of town to a gymnastics tournament.

Josiah's ACA teachers were vigilant when it came to his school work and would call him at home if they worried he was falling behind. With virtual classes, Josiah said he watched from the teacher's point of view as they lectured in a video chat. The students would chat and type questions during the lecture. If he had any questions, he had the option of "staying after class" to talk to his teacher.

There was no note passing, no doodling on notebooks and no hall passes. Josiah said he was just learning French in his bedroom before he took off to the gym.

It sounds a little isolating, but Josiah said he never had that issue. Some of his best friends are his teammates at Arizona Olympian Gymnastics, so he didn't yearn for a social outlet.

Josiah says he doesn't regret his transferring, but definitely recommends that anyone considering the switch find their own social connection outside of school.

Tabatha Jackson teaches second and third grade at ACA and says the school has plenty of social outlets.

"We coordinate several field trips around the state every month to allow families to come together and establish friendships and socialize," she said. "Teachers also attend the field trips so students and their parents can meet them."

ACA is also testing the waters and having a spring dance for their school students this year. And of course, every year ACA has an in-person graduation ceremony for their seniors. 

DIGITAL AGE

This idea of online school sounds like an obvious result of the digital age we live in. College students are accustomed to the idea of online courses being an option, and the freedom that comes with picking and choosing when and where you do your schoolwork.

In fact, ASU has the seventh largest enrollment in online classes of all non-profit colleges and universities (Cornell is first).

A new generation is going to school not knowing a life without the internet and ebooks. Students of all ages are now able to work online and not think twice about how much technology has advanced in recent years.

Even Jackson, who teaches second and third graders at ACA, says her students are very tech savvy and that online education helps them move beyond what's taught in traditional brick and mortar schools.

 "I think with the age we live in, most students are technologically-savvy, but our students have an advantage. The students are very comfortable with the computer and I still find myself surprised sometimes at how comfortable they are with sending emails to me," she said.

Jacksonalso stresses just how normal online school can be. There are classes to prepare students for taking state tests, PE, and even a Chess Club where students play chess online against other ACA students around the country.

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