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Online schools combine public, home education
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Bernard and Sylvie Pys-nak want the best education for their children, but they want it to happen at their Bountiful home.

The Pysnaks haven't left public education's fold entirely, though. Their 10-year-old daughter, May, is taking fifth- and sixth-grade classes at home through Utah Online Academies. Older sister Megan, 13, just finished UOA's eighth-grade requirements. Now Megan is taking high school classes through Utah's Electronic High School.

Once, choosing home schooling meant rejecting public school. Now, computer technology enables amicable separations: Students can learn at home while receiving public school support.

Utah Online Academies offers a rigorous K-8 curriculum over the Web, complete with all learning materials and teacher assistance. The program is run through a partnership between Davis, Alpine and Washington school districts but is available to all Utah families at no cost.

Utah's Electronic High School offers courses for ninth- through 12-graders - taught by real teachers in a virtual environment. EHS is accredited and is free to Utah students. Online learners can transfer EHS course grades to traditional public schools or earn an EHS diploma accepted by colleges.

Elementary rigor: The Pysnaks chose home schooling to avoid undesirable influences at public school and to give their children the type of education they received in the Czech Republic. UOA, which uses a curriculum created by K12 Inc., meets the family's needs.

"When we saw this curriculum, we were very impressed by how deep it is - that's why we love it," Bernard Pysnak said.

The Davis district is in its fourth year of offering classes through UOA, director Laura Belnap said. Alpine and Washington districts joined this year.

Per-pupil funding from the state pays for the instruction and supplies. "Rocks, sand, beans, goggles, beakers, tambourines, recorders and microscopes" show up on family doorsteps, Belnap said, along with basics such as paper and pencils.

A partnership: Belnap sees the program from two perspectives.

"I not only direct the program through Davis district, but I teach my own children," she said. "I love public school, and I love home school. You don't have to not like one - you can love them both."

Belnap said families choose UOA over traditional schooling for many reasons - including health issues, religious beliefs, individual learning styles, or concerns about bullying and other safety issues.

However, many home-school parents still prefer to avoid the public school system, she said. UOA serves 800 students; the number of home-schooled students in Utah is estimated at about 7,000.

Once enrolled in UOA, students have weekly contact with a certified teacher - either in person or online - and parents can ask teachers for help.

Testing, testing: Sylvie Pysnak said some students might be daunted by the program's online tests, and some might dislike the requirement that students take end-of-level tests with reported scores, just as other public school students do.

"Personally, I like the tests," she said. "It gives me an idea of where they are. Our goal is that the children will go to college, so they will have to take the ACT. They need to be tested from an early age."

"The curriculum is really rigorous, so you have to be motivated to do it," her husband said. "It's not an easier program."

Megan Pysnak, 13, loves the flexibility of online schooling, plus she makes many friends through K12's social programs.

"I was in a couple of acting classes and did plays," Megan said. "That was definitely a good way to make friends."

Moving on, online: Belnap said K-8 students are only accepted by UOA at the beginning of the school year; the deadline to enroll is Thursday.

The Electronic High School, which Megan now attends, offers additional flexibility for older students. Although Megan plans to attend full time, students can take EHS classes while attending public school. Certified teachers instruct the courses and grade homework and tests.

Utah students can enroll without charge, although they must buy required texts. Richard Siddoway, EHS' principal, said students take the courses for many reasons: to suit particular learning styles, make up failing grades, free up time for electives, augment coursework to finish high school early, or to allow for pursuit of special talents and abilities.

A lifeline: For Jordan Foutin, of Orem, EHS provided a lifeline.

"I suffered a head injury in the fifth grade that made it almost impossible for me to learn in regular school classes," Jordan said. He calls the left side of his brain "the dead engine" - a reference to the movie "Apollo 13." Like the endangered astronauts in the movie, Jordan had to find ways to compensate.

After the injury, in-class distractions hindered his ability to focus, and poor grades resulted. Switching to EHS allowed Jordan to use his computer skills to accomplish goals. His grades have "skyrocketed" from between 1.0 and 2.0 to a solid B-plus average of 3.55.

"EHS allows you to focus on assignments rather than people bugging you around the class," Jordan said.

Because Jordan hopes for a career in computer technology, EHS is an especially good fit for him. He doesn't think the classes are easier - just different. "I'd say EHS classes are similar in difficulty to traditional public school classes, but I've been able to handle them better."

Multiplying talents: Carole Nix, of Pleasant Grove, has other reasons for pursuing online education for her children.

Camille, a freshman, longs to be a ballerina. She works school around the 20 hours per week she spends rehearsing and attending ballet classes.

Chantelle, a sophomore, studies piano with Alpine pianist Desiree Brown, of the famed classical piano quintet The Five Browns. Chantelle wants to finish most of her high school curriculum before she becomes a senior, so she can spend that year practicing for auditions and visiting conservatories. She hopes to be accepted by Juilliard School of Music, her teacher's alma mater.

"I still spend the normal amount of class time [on school work]," Chantelle said. "but I can do piano first and then school, or school then piano."

Nix's youngest daughter, Madison, is 13, but is enrolled in high school classes online. Madison wants a head start on the years of schooling required to become a veterinarian.

"She wants to have a family, too, and doesn't want her education to stretch too far into her child-bearing years," Nix said.

Siddoway said such arrangements are common among EHS students, a group that includes incarcerated youth, rural students trying to resolve the conflicts of limited school schedules and dropouts who want to drop back in.

Early assumptions that EHS was "a diploma mill" were unfounded, Siddoway said, although concerns persist about parents who sign off on work students didn't do. Cheating has been reduced by a new requirement that exams be proctored.

Now, 54,000 Utah students take free classes through the school. Siddoway thinks the virtual high school is "a winner," and Jordan Foutin agrees.

"My grades are higher than ever," he said. "My morale is higher, and my personal confidence is higher. Learning has never been so possible for me."

cbaker@sltrib.com

Utah Online Academies

Utah Online Academies provides financial and educational support from Utah's public school system for parents who educate their K-8 children at home.

l The program is run through a partnership between Davis, Alpine and Washington school districts but is available online to students throughout the state. Families receive a complete curriculum, plus items such as books, maps, paper, arts supplies flash cards, musical instruments and science materials.

l Students receive instruction at home from parents under the supervision of a certified teacher. Parents supervise correction of work, but weekly contact with the teacher is required. Students must pass an assessment at the end of each unit before they can move on to the next one.

l Public school registration forms must be submitted for students, and they must be immunized and take all state and national tests required of public school students.

l The academy sponsors social events, field trips, pen-pal arrangements and online discussion boards to encourage student interaction.

l Registration ends Thursday. For more information, visit http://www.davis.k12.ut .us/schools/onlinek8.

Electronic High School

Electronic High School offers free online courses to Utah students in grades nine through 12. EHS is accredited and offers a high school diploma accepted by colleges and universities.

* Eight Utah students so far have received diplomas from EHS since the school was granted the right to issue them by the 2005 Legislature. Of last year's 36,000 seniors in Utah, 11,000 took at least one class through EHS, although most transferred the credits to traditional public high schools. Nearly 54,000 students are enrolled in EHS in grades nines through 12.

* Teachers are certified; they regularly contact their students via e-mail. Students submit work through a secure digital drop box, using software provided by EHS. Enrollment can occur anytime, and students work at their own pace within general completion deadlines.

* EHS offers more than 60 courses, including core subjects such as calculus, English and chemistry, and electives such as digital photography, Web page design, Navajo language and horse management.

* The Utah State Board of Education is considering a proposal to create the for-profit American Academy, providing EHS classes to 18- to 30-year-olds throughout the U.S. who want to earn high school diplomas. Discussion is expected at the board's Sept. 8 meeting. For more information, or to register for EHS classes, visit http://ehs.uen.org.

Utah Online Academies

Utah Online Academies provides financial and educational support from Utah's public school system for parents who educate their K-8 children at home.

* The program is run through a partnership between Davis, Alpine and Washington school districts but is available online to students throughout the state. Families receive a complete curriculum, plus items like books, maps, paper, arts supplies flash cards, musical instruments and science materials.

* Students receive instruction at home from parents under the supervision of a certified teacher. Parents supervise correction of work, but weekly contact with the teacher is required. Students must pass an assessment at the end of each unit before they can move on to the next one.

* Public school registration forms must be submitted for students, and they must be immunized and take all state and national tests required of public school students.

* The academy sponsors social events, field trips, pen-pal arrangements and online discussion boards to encourage student interaction.

* Registration ends Thursday. For more information, visit http://www.davis.k12.ut.us/

schools/onlinek8.

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