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By Lou Marzeles
Editor 

Online school now available

 

March 18, 2020

Connections Academy website

DISTANCE LEARNING COMES TO GOLDENDALE: Connections Academy is enrolling students for the next year.

Who wants to bet distance learning becomes a super hot item after the coronavirus scare ends? Actually, it's been in place for a while and doing well. Now Connections Academy, a tuition-free online distance learning program, is accepting applications for students from the Goldendale School District. Enrollment is open for the 2020-2021 school year at ConnectionsAcademy.com.

Essentially, says Connections Academy Executive Director Jenn Francis, the program is an online public school with a "wonderful robust K-through-12 online program. We are a public school, and that's why we're tuition free. We have state certified teachers who teach all of our courses, and we partner with different districts. We have three schools in the state of Washington, our newest one being Goldendale, partnering with the Goldendale School District to offer another option and opportunity for our students," Francis states.

Goldendale joined with Connections Academy because new District Superintendent Ellen Perconti has worked with the organization before coming to Goldendale and had a great experience with it. "The Goldendale School Board expressed interest in how they might serve students with an online option," Perconti states. "Pearson, Connection Academy's parent organization, reached out to us early in the fall. The Goldendale School Board accepted a contract with Connection Academy to partner with a K-12 virtual school starting in the 2020-21 school year. Connections provides a proven and quality product. Goldendale currently has several families who are participating in this public education option."

One might initially assume classes with Connections Academy are adjuncts to attending classes in Goldendale, but actually students are really attending only Connections Academy. "Students are 100 percent enrolled with us and their programs. We partner with Pearson [which is the world's largest learning company, employing 24,000 people in 70 countries to produce a huge range of education products and programs]. It provides our Connections Academy curriculum and platform that we use, called Connexis. Students have their curriculum online, but they have live lessons with their teachers four out of five days a week. Those are optional to attend, but they are wonderful opportunities. That's a live classroom setting."

Students also can see teachers' videos and classroom webcams. They can engage in presentations, participate in polls, and with their mics on, they can answer questions and fully take part in a broad online environment. "Students really enjoy the live lessons, and they have opportunities to go to those, four out of five days of the week, for all of their K through 12 studies," Francis says.

As part of the alternative learning experience in the state of Washington, students are supposed to make contact with teachers every week. They do so via live lessons, or the teachers are talking with the kids and then have a one-on-one live lesson or on the phone. "The teachers are booked solid with phone calls and working with students and supporting them and answering their questions and working with them," Francis emphasizes. "It's a really neat opportunity to see the literal connections made between our students and teachers because of the walls not being there and and how we're still able to really support. Our teachers are incredibly supportive and know the ins and outs of what's going on with each of their students, even though they have a large number of them.

Students have to have a computer and access to the internet to participate. Some agencies have been proactive in helping find lower cost options for families to acquire both, and Connections Academy has a tech hardship option for families that qualify to at least provide one laptop to a family.

But what socialization with other kids? Connections Academy has that covered. "We have another layer of our opportunities," Francis points out: "our field trips. All of our teachers live all across the state of Washington, and there are even a couple in Idaho and Oregon. And they plan field trips in their area, at least one or two every throughout the year. Any given week, there's something going on somewhere." That's of course when the world finally shakes off the coronavirus scare.

The curriculum comes from Connexus, which is a nationally based curriculum that is constantly updating and aligning with Washington state standards as a best practice. Francis adds one of the best features of Connections Academy is its abundant electives. "We're able to offer some wonderful electives in high school are really unique," she says, "such as foreign languages like Sign Language and French and Chinese and Japanese and Latin, things that students might not have an opportunity to take in a brick-and-mortar building due to staffing." Other elective subjects include Early Childhood Education, Introduction to Homeland Security, Criminal Justice, web design, honors classes, and more.

One of the most appealing aspects of Connections Academy is it's a real partnership with the learning coach, the student, "and us as the school," Francis says. "We need the learning coaches [by this she means parents] to be a literal learning coach, where they're sitting with the student and knowing their student and their needs. In elementary [school], they're going to be a real partner in making sure that this curriculum is delivered and the students are doing what they need to. Students who are successful have a learning coach who is really working with them and monitoring what they're doing and helping them, guiding them through that process and helping them grow." It is, in short, a kind of family-based education model.

Students have six hours of work to do each day and need to attend some live lessons and make some contact with the teachers. "Beyond that, you have some flexibility in that you could do some of your work in the evenings or on weekends," Francis says. "Some of those barriers to attendance are kind of melted or are less of an issue because of that flexibility."

Being essentially in a different school from the one in your town doesn't preclude students from participating in extracurricular activities at the local school. If they want to play in the school band or on the football team, that totally works. "They have to stay 100 percent enrolled with us," Francis states, "but they are definitely able to do band or sports or whatever."

Connection Academy students are counted among the enrollment of the local school district and considered graduates of the local district upon graduation.

 

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