Virtual schools an emerging trend in Douglas County

Flexibility, individualized approach popular among parents and kids


The emerging trend of virtual schooling has more families trading in the sometimes one-size-fits-all educational approach for a strategic and flexible learning plan.

Growing class sizes, less individualized learning and busy schedules have culminated in a surge of parents and kids seeking new academic options. Online classes for every grade level have become a popular avenue for students who work at their own pace. A comprehensive assessment of each student at most online schools is turned into a learning plan that enables accelerated students to challenge themselves and special needs students to get attention in the right areas.

Lone Tree resident Susan Latcham has found that virtual schooling for her twins, who are juniors in high school, is the perfect alternative to the traditional bricks-and-mortar classroom environment. The family chose online classes at Colorado Connections Academy, in part, because it gives the kids a chance to pursue extracurricular activities and attend appointments on their time. Latcham’s son participates in morning martial arts classes; her daughter engages in volunteer activities at her church. She also attends orthodontic appointments during the day instead of after school hours, when the office is flooded with teens.

“I just taught the kids how to drive and we were able to do it when everyone else was in school,” Latcham said.

The Douglas County School District offers K-12 virtual learning with Hope Online Learning Academy, which has centers throughout the state. It promises “in-person support from experienced mentors” and individualized learning plans. The academy is one of the many places meeting the increasing demand for such services, especially as more Douglas County parents become active in setting the course for their child’s educational future.

According to a study conducted by Ambient Insight, which specializes in eLearning market research, an estimated 17 million American school kids will get at least some of their education virtually by 2015, and as many as 4 million will receive their education entirely over the Internet.

In Colorado, most online schools have the same accreditation standards and testing as traditional public schools. The curriculum at Colorado Connections, which is contracted through the Mapleton Public School District, meets state standards and all teachers are certified in the same way. Because per-pupil funding follows the student in Colorado, virtual schooling does not cost any more than the typical education. However, greater oversight from parents is required, particularly with younger students, said Stefanie Clarke, public relations representative for the academy.

After the approval of Senate Bill 215 in 2007, the Colorado Department of Education created the Unit of Online Learning, which is dedicated to the growing phenomenon. It serves and supports online schooling programs and families, and facilitates the certification of multi-district online programs.

Latcham says the flexibility for schedules is not the only draw. Each of her children have particular learning needs that were not being met by a charter school they previously attended. Her kids seem to have taken easily to the idea of virtual learning. When given the option to attend a traditional high school in Highlands Ranch, they chose to stay with online schooling.


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