Angel Pickering is an elementary school student in Baker, Louisiana who likes staying at home to do her classwork, so she can be with her dog named Clifford.
Ashton Gorman lives in Minden. He did great in a traditional school, until the third grade where he started getting so stressed and distracted by the school day, that he could barely get through his homework. Now in middle school, he’s getting the extra help he needs.
All three of these students have different needs, but all are getting their K-12 education at what is now one of the largest charter schools in Louisiana: Connections Academy, a completely virtual public school.
And there are more than 2000 students like them.
“It’s a very 21st century phenomenon,” said Lead Principal Glenda Jones. “We reach every child, including those who were on the verge of falling through the cracks in a more conventional classroom.”
Louisiana Connections Academy is one of dozens of charter schools authorized by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to serve students from every parish in the state. It is free and offers a certified state education, but children learn from their home computer, while a guardian, like Tre’von’s godmother, is in the house.
“Virtual education works because it mirrors the technological age we are in,” said Ms. Jones. “Some countries are even teaching over a child’s smart phone.”
Schools like Louisiana Connections Academy offer these benefits to enrolled families:
- School Choice. Back in the day, “school choice” meant either going to your zoned public high school or forking over tuition for a parochial or private school that differed mainly in uniform color. But choice in education is now a many-splendored thing. Thanks to a completely online K-12 school like Louisiana Connections Academy, even students in the smallest and most remote parishes can choose an alternative public school.
- Course-Level Choice. Part of the appeal of online/blended schools is the breadth of curriculum options. No course is too obscure to offer: Latin IV, AP Calculus BC and Advanced Medical Billing are among the 500+ courses in the Connections catalog.
- Personalized Learning Plans. Before online learning, the only students who had documented learner profiles were typically those in special education, said Principal Jones. Mainstream students basically were handled as one-size-fits-all within an age/grade cohort, with the only differentiation being the kind of tracking that sent some students down the path to college while others went to a business track. At Connections, every enrolled student has a personalized plan that takes into account his or her learning style, goals, strengths and weaknesses to drive program level and pacing in a flexible way. That’s why a student like Ashton Gorman, who was diagnosed with ADHD, is now excelling.
- Role of Data. Louisiana Connections Academy relies on the constant flow of detailed information about student performance to personalize and individualize instruction for each student. Based on this data flow, students are grouped and regrouped for extra help or extension activities, teachers intervene one-on-one, and school leaders reach out to parents for deeper concerted action to get a student back on track. “The students themselves are the biggest data geeks of all, watching their online dashboards like hawks and knowing exactly what score they need to get on the next quiz or essay to bump their running GPA up to the next level,” said LACA High School Principal Shuanessy Matthews.
- Advanced Digital Tools. LACA Students have at least one dedicated, school-provided computing device, but students cycle rather nimbly from smart phone to tablet to laptop to flat-screen as they interact with curriculum, communicate with teachers and peers, read texts and present their work.
- Coaching. In online learning, parents are hands-on in their child’s education, acting as a learning coach monitoring their child’s performance across the curriculum and helping them develop the time management and self-advocacy skills they will need for school success.
- Blurring of Boundaries. With a personalized learning plan for every student, a digital curriculum that each student can access and work through directly, and teaching/coaching resources devoted to individual student success, online education can blur the lines between levels of education to extend each student’s path up and down. The freshman who’s reading at the 6th grade level can get the remediation she needs while surrounded by peers. The ambitious sophomore can knock off high school credits by the end of junior year and get a year of college under their belt before graduation.
“For our families, this is the way school should be…integrated into every aspect of their lives,” said Principal Jones.
ABOUT LOUISIANA CONNECTIONS ACADEMY (www.LouisianaConnectionsAcademy.com)
Louisiana Connections Academy is the state’s leading provider of high-quality, free public virtual charter schooling for grades K through 12. Louisiana Connections Academy offers a superior, personalized education for students, offered by Louisiana certified teachers, with the freedom and flexibility of an online education that meets the state’s standards. As an online charter school, students access their lessons anytime, anywhere as long as they have the technology, tools and support of their family. Accountability for meeting high academic student performance is monitored by the non-profit charter board, Friends of Louisiana Connections Academy, Wade Henderson, President. The charter school is authorized by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to accept students from any parish in the state. 1200 students attended for the 2012-2013 school year. Principal Caroline Wood has expanded the school curriculum to include tutoring, summer school, dual enrollment programs and high quality electives, such as e-learning courses at Juilliard. The school is headquartered in Baton Rouge at 8281 Goodwood Blvd., Ste J, (225) 372-8389. Student field trips, graduation ceremonies, parent-to-parent events and school information sessions are regularly scheduled and promoted at the school website.