While many children soon will be getting up early to catch a bus or hop on a bike to head to school, some will have the option to sleep in. They may even go to class in their pajamas. And they may be joined by adults who hit the books after a day at work.
These students probably won’t set foot in a school building all year; they’ll be taking classes over the Internet through one of Marion County’s virtual schools.
Centre was the first county district to embrace online education seven years ago. Its Kansas Online Learning Program has attracted students from across the state.
“Last year we were around 275 students, and we’re hoping for that this year,” coordinator Vicki Mueller said. “Two years ago we were the seventh largest virtual school in Kansas.”
Marion, Hillsboro, and Peabody entered the virtual game last year through Technology Excellence in Education Network.
The four-district TEEN Virtual Academy includes Herington. Centre also is part of TEEN but chose to continue with its own virtual school.
While Centre offers online curriculum for kindergartners through 12th graders, TEEN started with just 9th through 12th, expanding down to 6th grade.
“It was definitely an experience the first year,” director Lena Kleiner said. “We provided 88 semester credits, and seven students earned diplomas and moved on to higher education or careers.”
Centre and TEEN use Edgenuity for their curriculum for 6th through 12th grade. Lincoln Learning Solutions provides Centre’s curriculum for lower grades.
Each online course is backed up by a Kansas-certified teacher who provides additional instruction and support. TEEN used teachers from its participating schools last year, while Centre employs teachers from across the state, as well as Centre.
Many school-age children are enrolled in virtual classes, but the programs have proven to be particularly attractive to adults who didn’t finish high school.
“Last year we had somewhere around 200 adults,” Mueller said.
While the familiar General Education Development program for high school equivalency is still around, adults who go through Centre and TEEN earn actual degrees granted by the district they’re enrolled with.
Kleiner said adults liked being able to fit their education around family and work responsibilities.
“Students have chosen us rather than a learning site because they just don’t have the time,” she said. “This option is more convenient.”
Adults can be embarrassed about having dropped out of school, Mueller said, and the availability of online classes removes an emotional barrier to earning a diploma.
“It’s been very gratifying to work with our adult learners,” she said. “They’re so thankful and happy when you give them encouragement.”
Mueller credits Centre’s success to the quality of interactions students encounter at enrollment and throughout their studies.
“Every virtual school has about the same curriculum,” she said. “You have to find one that gives you a lot of customer service.”
“The initial enrolment process and orientation meeting lets me sit down with them and get to know them and what their goal is,” she said. “I send information to their teachers, and they start that communication, that personalization process. They’re contacting them on at least a weekly basis to encourage them and see how they’re doing, and I do that, too.”