OPELOUSAS — Later this month, about 1,600 Louisiana public school students will begin their first-day-of-school lessons at home desks or kitchen tables.
The group is among the first enrolled in Louisiana’s two new virtual charter schools: Louisiana Connections Academy with K-12 classes and the Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy with K-10 classes. Both charters were approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this spring.
The public schools offer students a curriculum delivered via online courseware with lessons also taught live on the web by Louisiana certified teachers.
Enrollment is open to any Louisiana student and demand for the schools has outpaced enrollment caps.
So far, Connections Academy has reached its capacity at 600 students and will bring its request to expand the cap to 1,000 students on Aug. 18, said Caroline Wood, the school’s principal.
“We still have several hundred applicants wanting to enter the school and they are on a wait list,” Wood said.
The Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy or LAVCA operates in partnership with the Baton Rouge-based Community School for Apprenticeship Learning and K12 Inc., the country’s largest provider of online schools, with schools in 30 states and Washington, D.C.
More than 1,000 students have enrolled in LAVCA, said Jeff Kwitowski, vice president of public affairs at K12 Inc.
In its first year, LAVCA is offering classes in grades K-10 and will add an additional grade over the next two years, said Tara Richardson, K12 Inc. southern region special programs manager. Over the next two years, it will expand enrollment by 250 students annually, she said.
The virtual schools must follow the same regulations as any other public school in the state — including hiring highly qualified and certified teachers, following the Louisiana Comprehensive Curriculum, and attendance and standardized testing requirement.
Students who attend the schools are also eligible for the state’s college tuition program — TOPS.
The schools provide choice to parents, who otherwise may not have a charter school option in their district, Kwitowski noted.
Parent Dineen Constantin said she pulled her boys out of Rayne Catholic after the school didn’t “give me the support I needed” when her 13-year-old diabetic son missed classes because of his health condition.
Because he was unable to attend school, Constantin said, she was having to reteach him lessons at home — while still paying tuition.
“It was an easy step,” she said of her decision to enroll sons, 8 and 13 into the school.
Her boys are excited about the start of classes. They’ve received their boxes of supplies in the mail. Dax Constantin, 8, unpacked books, art supplies — and even a tambourine.
“And he only got books,” he chuckled and nudged his brother, Drake, 13.
The family attended a LAVCA orientation Thursday in Opelousas. The event was one of several held throughout the state this week.
About 200 students attended the orientation events in Opelousas, Richardson said.
Richardson encouraged parents to consider now whether the school is the right fit for their family.
Enrollment in the school takes a commitment from a parent or another adult connected to the child who can serve as a “learning coach” or “mentor” to assist with the curriculum, Richardson said.
The school is not an independent study program and the online teacher does not provide 100 percent of the instruction, so it’s necessary for an on-site adult to be a partner in the child’s learning, Richard said.
Parent Tamicia Broussard, of Opelousas, said she was surprised that she would need to be so heavily involved in her son’s classes.
“It’s 50 percent me and 50 percent a normal teacher,” she said. “I wasn’t aware of that.”
Broussard said she was still attracted to the option for her 14-year-old son because of his faltering performance at a small, parochial school.
“I think it would be better for him to focus on his classes,” she said. “I’m glad they have this, especially if you can’t afford to put your kid in private school.”
Teachers constantly monitor students’ progress and prescribe more one-on-one instructional time or pull students who need extra help into small online study groups led by the teacher, Richardson explained.
The program is self-paced in that students don’t move onto the next lesson or learning objective until they’ve mastered the concept, Kwitowski said.
“If you need more time to work on a math concept, the bell doesn’t ring, forcing the student to stop working on that math concept before they master it,” he said.
The virtual schools aren’t in competition with bricks-and-mortar schools, Wood said.
“We feel like we need to work together to provide options for students in the state of Louisiana,” she said. “The virtual option is not for everyone, but we are very proud of Louisiana to allow this charter to come into existence so students who will thrive in a virtual setting can.”