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Friday, May 12, 2017

Virtual school offers alternatives | Independent Tribune

Photo: Erin Weeks
"Field trips, commencement, even dances—all aspects of a traditional school experience that might fall by the wayside in a digital learning environment." reports Erin Weeks.


But North Carolina Connections Academy has found a way to blend the two concepts, using virtual classrooms, enrichment and student engagement to bring students and families an alternative education system right in their own living rooms.

“We are a charter school; we are our own local education agency,” Connections Academy Superintendent Nathan Currie said. “Next April, we’ll be having prom, and the year after that we’ll be having graduation.”

A virtual public charter school, N.C. Connections Academy offers a flexible learning environment free of charge for students in kindergarten through 11th grade, with a senior high school class coming online next year. The school is accredited by AdvanceED and follows state testing guidelines.

The idea got started a few years ago when parents and educators started to discuss the idea of a virtual school. While online classes had existed for years in the older grades, the stakeholders wondered what it would look like in elementary education.

So the group drafted a charger application, which was approved by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in February 2015. The school started with an enrollment cap of 1,500 serving students through 10th grade. With several children on the waiting list, the charter committed to adding a grade level and increasing enrollment by 20 percent. So in fall 2016, the school bumped up to 1,800 kids and offered through 11th grade.

Next year, Currie said, they plan to enroll 2,100 students and drastically reduce the waiting list.

How it works
Connections Academy uses a triangulation approach to education, Currie said, using teachers to guide instruction and learning coaches to support engagement. Learning coaches can be parents or, for those families with two working parents, it could be a family member or designated instructor.

Source: Independent Tribune