Approaches to online differ
Centre USD 397 and Peabody-Burns USD 398 both offer online classes but have different approaches .
When USD 397 started offering classes through the Kansas Online Learning Program five years ago, only 21 students took classes.
This year more than 250 are enrolled.
“About half of our students are adult learners seeking their high school diploma,” virtual coordinator Vickie Jirak said. “We have people from all walks of life. There’s always someone with an interesting story.”
The program attracts students from across the state.
“We have a wide age group, and some students are from as far away as Kansas City and Dodge City,” she said. “I think the main reason we have grown so much is that most adult learners like studying from home.”
Kindergarten through grade 12 classes are offered. However, college advanced placement courses are not.
“Everything is offered in-house except for the curriculum, which is provided by Lincoln Interactive out of Pennsylvania,” Superintendent Brian Smith said. “It’s a pretty rigorous curriculum.”
The program has created 20 full- and part-time jobs in the district, Jirak said.
Students are assigned a “student learning advocate” whom students can call directly with coursework questions.
“Our SLAs are all state-certified teachers,” Smith said. “When a student calls with a question, the SLA should get back to them within 24 hours.”
Although some graduates elect to have diplomas mailed after they complete the program, most elect to walk across the stage in cap and gown at Centre’s graduation and get their picture taken with their diploma, Smith said.
Peabody-Burns USD 398 will be offering online classes for the first time this year.
Classes will be offered only to students who reside in the district.
“Centre works outside their borders,” Superintendent Ron Traxson said. “We’re not trying to get students from other districts.”
The idea is to provide online education to students who are already in the district and, for some reason, need additional classes or a different learning environment, Traxson said.
USD 398 has hired Greenbush Online Learning out of Girard to provide the system, software, and online teaching staff.
“It’s a state-accredited program,” he said. “We don’t expect program enrollment to be huge at first, but we will have the online availability for those who are interested.”
Every class from kindergarten through 12th grade, including AP courses, will be offered online. Once in the program, students may take classes wherever they have Internet access.
Online classes will not be offered to students in place of regular classes unless there are extenuating circumstances that have caused students not to be able to attend school in person.
“It’s really for students who are behind and want to graduate on time or those who have missed their graduation date,” Traxson said. “It’s also for people who are for example, in their 20s and would like to get their high school diploma instead of a GED — or for those who may have been expelled and want to keep taking courses.”
If students wish to seek advanced degrees, they must have a high school diploma or a GED.
“Schools like Eden Mennonite in rural Burns are traditionally a K-8 attendance center,” Traxon said. “As such they do not generally offer high school classes.”
Students in this sort of situation cannot get a high school diploma without classes at the high school level.
“A student who wants to move onto the junior-college level to take, say, a course in nursing, could take classes for a diploma or a GED online,” Traxson said. “If that student lives in USD 398 and has attended a school like Eden Mennonite or is home-schooled, he or she can sign on with the Greenbush program to take advanced classes or whatever is needed to meet the requirements to begin college.”
The district is still working out program qualifications, he said.
USD 398 will be in charge of state assessments for those enrolled in the program.