It’s one of Minnesota’s fastest-growing public schools, but not a single student has ever stepped inside the walls. The reason: this school has no walls; it’s the Minnesota Virtual Academy, and its 630 students all study from home.
For these students in grades kindergarten through eight, the school day is a mixture of online coursework that is supervised by a certified teacher, and independent study that is monitored by an involved parent.
Open to students from across the state, the Minnesota Virtual Academy is an innovative school that provides the best practices of public education to students who, for a variety of reasons, are taught at home.
Kim Ross, the founder of the academy, is uniquely qualified for creating a public school for home-based students. Ross, himself a former home-schooling parent, is the superintendent of the Houston, Minn., School District. Located in the southeastern corner of the state, the Houston School District is the administrative body for the Minnesota Virtual Academy.
The heart of the program, says Ross, is the curriculum. It is provided by K12, Inc., a company in McLean, VA, that publishes curricular resources for home-based education.
“We had tried to create a virtual school with a home-grown curriculum, but it just wasn’t working,” Ross explained. “Then, in 2002, we brought in K12 and they turned everything around. They really were integral to the founding of the academy.”
K12 offers a formal curriculum for grades K-9 in language arts, math, history, science, art and music. The curriculum, which is specially designed for home-based students, includes online coursework as well as textbooks and other traditional instructional materials.
“Many of the public school districts that use our program find that it enables them to retain pupils who might otherwise leave the district for private or home schooling,” said Steve Hollingsworth, Vice President, K12 Virtual School Programs. “By helping them retain students and state funding, the K12 program can actually have a positive effect on district finances.”
The Minnesota Virtual Academy attracts families for a variety of reasons, said Ross. Some have children with special learning, social or physical challenges that were not being met in traditional schools. Others want a home schooling environment but with a highly structured program.
“The common denominator is a parent who wants to be very involved with his or her child’s education,” Ross said. “This kind of learning situation won’t work without that factor.”
Parents are expected to guide students through the lessons and help ensure that their children are learning. They also contact teachers when students have academic problems, help students manage their time and fill out daily attendance logs.
Each of the students is supervised by one of the academy’s 19 certified teachers. These teachers — who, like the students, are located across the state — monitor the students’ progress, provide extra help and perform assessments. The teachers meet for two days every other month for professional development sessions.
“The biggest benefit,” said Ross, “is the individualized instruction. Each student proceeds through the K12 curriculum at his or her own pace. No one has to worry about falling behind or moving ahead too quickly.”
Another important benefit offered by the academy and the K12 program, explained Ross, is the assurance that children are being taught at home with a research-based curriculum that meets all educational standards.
“As a professional educator and as a parent who home-schooled two children, I can tell you that this is very important,” he said. “Home schooling parents want to make sure that they give their children the best education possible, and educators want to be confident that children who are taught at home are meeting the standards. Our program accomplishes both those goals.”
For information, go to www.k12.com.