More and more, going to school means staying at home.
Several school systems and charter schools are offering virtual learning options as a way to attract home-schooled students, prevent dropouts and give students an easier way to balance lives that often involve working to help their families.
A St. Landry Parish charter school, J.S. Clark Leadership Academy, is the latest school in the Acadiana area to take its classroom experience online, offering the courses in grades four through 12. This school year, the Lafayette Parish School System launched its own K-12 virtual school, in addition to its existing eCampus online course options for students who need to make up course credit or want to take courses not offered at their home schools.
J.S. Clark, which had previously offered online courses, opted to expand those offerings based on the number of overage students who had applied to attend the school and also on interest from home-school families, said Tiffanie Lewis, the school’s founder and CEO.
“This year, we had about six 15-year-olds in fifth grade apply,” Lewis said. “What it said to us was … they want an opportunity to do something different. We don’t want to deny those students who want to be able to push themselves ahead.”
Catching up is often difficult in a traditional classroom, Lewis said. The school’s online program enables students to learn at their own pace. They also have access to additional help on Saturdays at the school, she said.
Students can enroll at any time in the online school and receive live instruction from a teacher. Students are allowed to move through coursework at their own pace and have a year to complete the coursework.
Students enrolled in the online school still will have to meet state testing standards and also will have the opportunity to participate in on-campus activities with other students at J.S. Clark.
Interested parents can learn more about the online school option during meetings planned Aug. 25, when they’ll also have a chance to meet the teachers who will deliver the live online instruction, Lewis said.
J.S. Clark opened its doors in 2012 and now enrolls about 240 students in grades five through eight, and 90 ninth- and 10th-graders who, as of Monday, attend class at South Louisiana Community College. As part of a partnership similar to Lafayette Parish School System’s Early College Academy, J.S. Clark students now have the option to earn associate degrees in tandem with their high school diplomas. The students have the option to pursue a degree and training in business; commercial/industrial electrical technician; general studies; heating, air conditioning and refrigeration; and welding.
Lewis said she thinks the online program also will appeal to students who wish to graduate early and to families who prefer not to enroll their children in a traditional school setting but are interested in having access to a certified teacher.
“With this program, they see a certified, highly qualified teacher in their living room every day,” Lewis said.
Statewide, there are 10,034 home-study students who aren’t enrolled in a school — virtual or otherwise — based on October enrollment counts from the Louisiana Department of Education.
In St. Landry Parish, there were 425 home-study students as of the October counts. So far, 30 students have enrolled in the online school option at J.S. Clark — though Lewis said the school’s goal is to stay small, with about 50 students this school year.
Two statewide online charter schools have existed for the past few years: Louisiana Connections Academy and Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy. In recent years, area public school systems, including Iberia, St. Mary, St. Martin and Vermilion parishes, have offered similar online opportunities to students, with superintendents pointing to an opportunity to recapture or enroll for the first time those students whose families opted for home schooling.
Both statewide online charter schools enroll students from across the state in grades kindergarten through 12, with Louisiana Connections enrolling 1,200 students in the 2013-14 school year and Louisiana Virtual enrolling 1,790 students that school year.
Online options are a different avenue to deliver instruction to students who may not excel in a traditional classroom, area school superintendents said during an Acadiana Press Club forum Monday.
While the initial intention to launch online options in St. Mary Parish was to recapture home-study students, more students have chosen to take advantage of academic courses not offered at their school, St. Mary Parish Superintendent Leonard Armato said at Monday’s forum.
“In cases where we can’t find a teacher for a physics class or a chemistry class, we were able to do that (online) without any problems,” Armato said. “To say it’s brought in a lot of money for the system — it hasn’t, but it allowed us to give more for our students.”
About 100 students are enrolled in the online schools offered in St. Martin and Iberia parishes.
“We all have to recognize that this is a new era in education and this is how some kids learn,” Iberia Parish Superintendent Dale Henderson said Monday. “It’s worked out so far for us.”
Lafayette Parish launched its online school for grades K-12 this school year as another way to reach students, Lafayette Parish Superintendent Don Aguillard said.
“It’s not meant to be a moneymaker, but it definitely provides another opportunity for parents to choose how their children can be effectively educated,” Aguillard said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.