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Virtual school is a second chance

Staff writer

Barbara Sharp dropped out of high school in her native Washington state in 2003.

“Just due to the circumstances that came up, I decided I was done with school,” she said.

Braving a job market that openly dismissed potential employees lacking a high school degree, she was lucky enough to fall into a job at an optical store. She sells and repairs glasses and contacts. She has since risen to manager.

She also has two children — Caydence, 6, and Gavin, 2 months — and is married to Brandon Sharp, an Atmos Energy employee. They live in Gardner, where he was raised, to be close to his family.

Sharp, now 26, has decided to enroll in virtual school with Centre to give herself an opportunity to advance further in her field. To work in an optometrist’s office, she would need a high school diploma.

Centre virtual school students met with program coordinator Vicki Jirak on Monday and became acquainted with Centre teachers who will be communicating with them this semester via Skype.

The only thing that unites the group of students is the program itself; their backgrounds and educational goals are decidedly different.

Sharp’s plan is to complete her schoolwork at night. She needs approximately a full senior year worth of classes, including multiple mathematics courses. She knows having a full-time job and raising a young family will make the task a “juggling act.”

Sharp also wants a high school diploma so she can impress upon her children the importance of education without an air of hypocrisy.

“I just decided this would be a good time,” Sharp said. “I want to graduate so I don’t have any excuses with my children.”

Ashley Chalberg’s goal is less specific than Sharp’s, but she is also attending virtual school to complete a once forgotten education so she can pursue employment opportunities.

She is not sure if she wants to run a day care service or go to Cosmetology school after receiving her diploma.

Chalberg, 20, of Wyandotte, dropped out of high school in 2009 when pregnant with her first child. She brought 4-month-old Aleigha, her second child, to the orientation gathering.

Chalberg needs only a few credits to earn her diploma. Standing in her way are English, Algebra, and Mathematics 2.

She said it would not be difficult to finish her schoolwork — she is always on the computer and has multiple babysitters.

Seanisty Rine, 13, of Newton, will enroll and take eighth-grade classes with the virtual school.

While high school students need to set up a regimented plan with virtual school organizers to earn proper credits, the middle school curriculum is more akin to a normal school day. The program sets the students’ class schedules.

Rine said she often was in trouble with teachers in Newton for talking out of turn.

Rine sports a pink stripe in her blond hair and hangs out with “skaters”. She said the “preppy girls” mocked her at Newton.

The freedom the virtual school program presents is an aspect of the program Rine appreciates.

“I wanted to be able to do it how I want,” she said.

Joining a growing population of virtual school elementary students are the Beck family children of Saint Marys.

The Becks are enrolling their six children in virtual school. Christopher, 17, and John, 15, will have high school classes. Grace, 13, will have middle school classes. Isabella, 9, Michael, 8, and Claire, 6, will have elementary school classes.

The Becks homeschool their children, but Jennifer Beck said virtual schooling takes the burden off her to create a curriculum.

While the Becks said their religious beliefs were a part of why they home-school their children, Jennifer also said it is about letting her children learn at their own pace.

“I don’t like how all children are lumped in a classroom,” Jennifer Beck said. “Each of my children are individuals and I want to treat them as individuals. I want them to be comfortable with themselves.”

Centre Kindergarten teacher Karen Nickel will supervise 10 elementary age virtual school students. She said the parental supervision in the program was crucial. While the computer learning software is advanced, it cannot be a substitute for one-on-one interaction.

“It is a full day,” Nickel said of the program’s workload.

However, the program does have many assignments that are scanned into the computer so teachers can assess the progress of a student’s handwriting or other visual measure. Teachers can also listen to students practice reading with audio files so instructors can give students tips later.

The new virtual school students said they were unsure of what to expect from the program.

What they should expect, they learned, is to have more freedom than a normal classroom setting, but to have goals attached to specific dates. Students should have 25 percent of their work for the semester completed by Sept. 21, 56 percent by Oct. 17, 75 percent by Nov. 16, and all of their work finished by Dec. 21.

Students will not be completely alone with their work. Centre teachers will check on students weekly via Skype to assess their progress.

Last modified Aug. 4, 2011

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