The pressure of dating schoolmates and coping with bullying is off, and children are in full learning mode attending an online, public school where students learn from home, said a Wisconsin Dells area parent whose children are enrolled in the Wisconsin Virtual Academy.
The Wisconsin Virtual Academy is a charter school in the McFarland School District that uses K12 curriculum. Students from all over the state can enroll and pay no tuition. The school provides the student with a lap top computer and sends supplies to their homes that are required for their online lessons.
Wisconsin Dells area parent Michelle Foth decided to enroll her children, a fifth-grader and a ninth-grader, into Wisconsin Virtual Academy, or WIVA, for fewer social pressures. In addition, she said her children had fewer allergic reactions and headaches when they were attending school online from home.
Foth’s son, Hunter, is in fifth grade, and he said he enjoys math, history and art.
He is especially fond of math and learning about how it is used to make video games, he said.
“It’s a lot better than the previous schools I was in, because I learn more. Way much more,” Hunter said.
Michelle said her children start school at about 9 a.m. and like sleeping in an extra hour compared to a traditional 8 a.m. start.
But they are usually occupied with online schooling until about 4 p.m., she said. Some classes don’t meet every weekday, she said.
Hunter said he likes art class and doing art projects even outside of school.
Michelle described the art classes at WIVA.
“It’s a lesson and then you have a quick quiz on the end so they (teachers) can check and see were you paying attention, did you get anything out of the lesson, that kind of thing. And then you can make something that’s similar to what this person did whether they made some pottery out of clay...or they can make a painting or it’s a drawing or what have you,” Michelle said.
The general school calendar at WIVA matches the calendar of a regular school, with the same number of holidays, she said.
She is very involved in her children’s education, making sure they do the assignments, attend the online classes and earn good grades.
She said the teachers are great.
“I really like the teachers here. They’re always available and if they’re not available right on that particularly day, they’ll get back to you right away on the next day,” she said. “So there’s no falling behind or anything like that.”
Peter Endemann is a middle school science teacher at WIVA and said he has 80 students in a homeroom and a total of 520 students in the three different science classes he teaches. He teaches physical science, earth science and life science.
Endemann said he likes working for WIVA. Being in uncharted territory, the teachers regularly encounter challenges and need to be problem-solvers, he said.
It seems like the class sizes are big, but the tools available to teachers are terrific, he said.
He can check on individual students’ progress and can see which students have had to take the end-of-lesson assessment multiple times to pass. He said students are required to score an 80 percent or better on the evaluations given after each lesson before they can move on.
Not only can Endemann respond to students’ questions online, but he can allow students to have discussions online about the class content, he said.
When asked about whether there are any drawbacks to WIVA, Endemann said, “I think that WIVA is a great option for some families. And I say the same about brick-and-mortar, a traditional school, that that’s a terrific option for some families. And I don’t think that either one is going to meet the needs of all students. The drawback is that if you have a family that is disengaged and not active in school life at brick-and-mortar or at WIVA, then WIVA’s not going to be able to address that anymore than the brick-and-mortar is,” he said. He said students still need to attend class regularly and parents need to be involved in their children’s education.
“....But I think for the right families, for people who are trying new things are very active and engaged in learning, this is an amazing option, this is a terrific option,” he said about WIVA.
Endemann said WIVA has a lot of ways for parents to stay in contact with teachers, whether by phone or email.
WIVA has face-to-face social engagements for students and their parents.
Endemann said there are regional pizza parties and visits to pumpkin fields. Parents often attend the events and discover that other WIVA families live near to them and friendships and study groups form, he said.
Students can also play online games together and create Power Point presentations to explain their recent trips or share a photo of a pet, Endemann said.
One advantage Endemann sees to online schooling is that students will likely be able to tell future employers that they are comfortable with computers in the job interviews they’ll have in five or 10 years.
Endemann said the classes at WIVA are rigourous and Michelle said her children are tested each year on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam. She said they travel to McFarland School District once a year where the children take the exam, in addition to other ones they have online.
According to Dr. Leslye Moraski Erickson, head of school at WIVA, enrollment in 2011-12 was 1,058, up from 464 students when the charter school began. The partnership with K12 and the McFarland School District is in its third year.