The changing face of online learning: Connecting Locally
It’s not unusual for parents to call Laura Belnap in tears over the Utah-based virtual school she oversees. And that’s a good thing.
“Parents are constantly emailing or calling us crying, thanking us for the support, and sharing stories of their children’s educational growth,” said Belnap, director of Washington Online School Utah.
WashOnline, also known as WOSU, partnered with K12 in 2005 to address the needs of Washington County parents who home-school their K-8 children. Some students live hours from the nearest school building; others are involved in elite sports training—gymnastics and skiing, for instance—or work, such as one student does on Broadway. The program was later opened to all Utah students, and this year a high school program was added.
“Having a virtual school allows families to be part of the school district while still being home-based,” Belnap said. “When they are part of the school district—logging 180 days of attendance, taking state tests—the district receives state funding that otherwise would be lost.”
The K12 public school program differs from traditional schools because classes take place at home, on the road or anywhere an Internet connection can be found. Students work online with teacher support via phone, Web or in person. WOSU students also may participate in school-based activities and field trips. “Parents are thrilled with Washington Online School, the staff and the experience they are having schooling at home using the K12 materials and curriculum,” Belnap said. “There are so many successes. One highlight would be our pre-algebra and algebra end-of-year test scores, which increased 28 percent and 29 percent respectively [from 2010 to 2011].”
Another increase has been in enrollment, which went from 20 in the first year to about 1,200 this year, including 200 in the high school program that started in August.
“We needed a partner that would support student learning, support teachers and allow teachers access to the progress for each student,” Belnap said. “The support that comes from the K12 team is a vital component to our success with families and staff. The interactive courses are engaging to the digital natives who use K12.”
As a result, WashOnline continues to expand its K12 offerings.
“We offered our first credit recovery session this fall,” Belnap said. “We had 95 percent of the students complete the recovery in five weeks, which is the length of the unit. The rest completed it in seven weeks. We are now in our second session with 39 students, and all are on track to successfully complete the course in five weeks.”